Ohio State receives $4.9 million to train climate-ready workforce along Lake Erie shoreline

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COLUMBUS, Ohio—The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) has received a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA to fund a project that will train new workers to fulfill the specialized workforce needs of the water industry in the Ohio Great Lakes region.

The grant will fund the project “Training a climate-ready workforce to manage the impacts of climate change on water resources in Ohio coastal communities,” which will be led by Lorrayne Miralha, a CFAES assistant professor of watershed modeling and data analytics. The four-year project will focus on four Ohio counties on the Lake Erie shoreline — Erie, Lorain, Lucas, and Cuyahoga — to train new workers in the areas of stormwater management, risk assessment, watershed sciences, environmental compliance, environmental justice, and data analytics.

The need for more workers trained in these areas is significant, considering that the coastal zones of the Great Lakes require a specialized workforce to ensure that water resources support economic and societal needs, and withstand vulnerabilities caused by climate change, Miralha said.

“The Lake Erie watershed offers diverse coastal resources to its 12 million residents and supports more than $11 billion in annual revenue for local businesses,” she said. “However, coastal communities including Toledo, Lorain, Sandusky, and Cleveland, Ohio, are threatened by climate-exacerbated effects such as degraded water quality, excess nutrient loading, toxic algal blooms, reduced ice cover, and fluctuating water levels.

“Our goal is to provide opportunities for those who are looking at the next stage in their lives by training at least 100 climate-ready workers, including technicians, scientists, and engineers, to fulfill the specialized workforce needs of the water industry in the Great Lakes by 2028.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand is expected to grow for a range of climate-related jobs such as hydrologists (6% increase), environmental engineers/scientists (3%-8%), and data analytics experts (32%) by 2029.

“The four counties were also chosen because they are under distress due to high unemployment rates, with the per capita income lower than 80% of U.S. counties,” Miralha said.

Working on behalf of CFAES and the Ohio State University Extension, the program, which officially begins Aug. 1, will partner with Lorain Community College, Central State University, The Ohio State University Stone Laboratory, and Ohio Sea Grant to recruit and train the next generation of climate-ready workers for such jobs including hydrologists, environmental engineers, environmental scientists, water treatment plant operators, and data analytics experts, Miralha said. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.

“Through a knowledge- and skills-building framework in water quality monitoring and modeling, geographic information systems, stormwater infrastructure, and environmental policy and management, participants will form a diverse, digitally fluent workforce at various career levels and with the expertise to provide their communities with climate-resilient solutions for water system services in the coast of Lake Erie,” she said.

Once trained, workers could be hired by local utility employers such as the Cleveland Water Department, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, which are partners in the training program.

“We plan to train people who will get jobs at the end of each training level we are offering,” Miralha said. “Most crucial is the fact that, together with The Junction Coalition, which has the community trust in Toledo and other climate-vulnerable communities around Lake Erie, we plan to recruit trainees from these communities and place them into jobs.

“We believe training individuals from these communities will prepare them to implement solutions that will improve the quality of water resources and the climate resilience of these regions, together with their socioeconomic status.”

Other partners in the project include the Ohio EPA, the National Weather Service, and area businesses LimnoTech, Geosyntec Consultations, Mad Scientist Associates LLC, and Xylem. Workforce partners for the project include Ohio TechNet, Cleveland Water Alliance, TMACOG, Student Conservation Association, Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, and The Junction Coalition Community Connections.

The Ohio project is one of nine projects funded from money from the Inflation Reduction Act to “train workers from around our coasts and help them find good-paying jobs that strengthen climate resilience and local economies,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a written statement.

“Climate change accelerates the need for a new generation of skilled workers who can help communities address a wide range of climate impacts including sea level rise, flooding, water quality issues, and the need for solutions such as renewable energy,” Raimondo said.

More information about how to participate as an employer partner or as a trainee in the Ohio project will be announced later this summer.

Tracy Turner
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Lorrayne Miralha