SWS checks in on the storm water & erosion control industry
“Overall, I believe the industry has grown and is getting stronger.”
Diane Smith, president of East Coast Erosion Control, summarized the overall state of the industry. While Smith’s expertise is in erosion and sediment control, the sentiment applies to storm water, as well. Industry professionals surveyed in the annual SWS State of the Industry survey rated 2018 as a better business year than 2017, and they expect to rate 2019 even higher. The industry’s growth and positive change has left its professionals optimistic, but it does not come without challenges.
Extreme weather events are occurring more frequently and in quicker succession. Many industry professionals lament and express concern about climate change. Others, like Smith, view it through a business lens, explaining that climate change simultaneously creates a need for erosion control and make it harder to obtain the raw resources needed to combat erosion. This conclusion can be drawn for much of the industry, as well, and illuminates its greater disparities.
The Next Generation
The majority of the storm water and erosion control industry—70%, according to the 2018 SWS State of the Industry survey—is age 50 and older. Within the next decade, the industry will see many knowledgeable, seasoned professionals exit. Some industry leaders like Smith are optimistic about young professionals entering the workforce, but she may be in the minority. Many industry professionals report concern about not just filling open positions as staff retire, but also filling them with qualified individuals.
“Most of those folks are probably baby-boomer age, and I think in the next 10 years, there’s going to be a pretty big wave of people moving out of this industry and a lot of industries, so we’re going to have a knowledge gap at some point if we don’t get some more talent into the pool,” said Derek Berg, storm water regulatory manager, east, for Contech Engineered Solutions, and president of the Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Assn.
More diverse and plentiful education, particularly about job opportunities in storm water and erosion and sediment control, will close this gap. However, education must be targeted to young people before they enter the workforce. Few universities offer courses focused on storm water and erosion control in engineering, and the industry as a whole is little known to those outside it. In addition, as the next generation joins the industry, seasoned professionals have the responsibility to correctly train it to avoid challenges down the road.
The young professionals that are entering the industry, however, show a level of “enthusiasm and passion” that is very promising, Smith said.
“It really does take trying to find the right type of person for this job,” said Dave Mercier, water quality department manager for Michael Baker Intl. If the industry can target the young people most excited and suited for it, its positive trajectory will grow.
Progress & Potential Setbacks
Education in storm water and erosion control extends past educating young people. Even seasoned professionals are seeking out new technology, techniques and resources. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they use webinars for continuing education, and 65% turn to websites. Free, easily accessible education drives more professionals to learn and grow with their careers.
In particular, Andrew Sidor, project manager for Michael Baker Intl., noted that he has seen more contractors on construction sites receive certifications so they can better maintain sediment control best management practices on their sites.
“We’re seeing that shift where people are trying to take it a little bit further” he said.
Certain practices are gaining momentum in storm water, as well. Two words are popping up everywhere: green infrastructure. More professionals are learning about its benefits, and it is being installed in a higher volume across the country, often right alongside grey infrastructure. More research and education on these practices drives more policy change, which then leads to their implementation.
“Some of the early adopters that have very rigid policy that almost rode out other types of practices are starting to acknowledge that there often needs to be a blended approach in urban areas, where we’re seeing green and grey combined due to site constraints,” Berg said.
Despite a drive for education and action on the professional side, funding cuts have made it difficult to execute certain plans. Though the industry always has experienced funding challenges of some sort, major cuts in 2018 will have a resounding impact, particularly on smaller local programs that rely on it. We may not see the effects for years-after it is too late.
“I don’t think we realize the full impact of some of the funding cuts that have taken place on local programs,” Berg said.
Ultimately, the storm water and erosion control industry is evolving before our eyes; staffing, education and funding are powerful catalysts. The next several pages include data on industry issues and trends as told by the 112 respondents to the 2018 SWS State of the Industry survey.
View the full State of the Industry 2018 report here.