HCSA hoping vocational program will help attract younger workers

By Colter Anstaett - Southside Bureau Reporter

HALIFAX COUNTY (WSLS 10) - The Halifax County Service Authority is trying to get a vocational program started to help train young people to work for the service authority.

Seventy percent of the service authority's employees are over the age of 50 and several may retire soon.

"It's very concerning," said Randy Cage, supervisor of the Halifax County Wastewater Treatment Plant.

He has worked for the service authority for 39 years.

Now, as he and other employees near retirement, he is concerned with the lack of younger people who want to step in and take over the positions.

"We have, probably, two operators who are going to probably leave within the next six months; probably two more that's going to leave within the next year," Cage explained. "That'll reduce our staff down to about three."

Adding to the urgency, the service authority's executive director, Mark Estes, said it takes at least a year and a half to get someone licensed to fill these positions.

"You're looking for a [Bachelor's of Science] degree, 18 to 24 months of operating experience with that degree in order to be able to have licensure. If it's a high school graduate, you're looking at 36 months," said Estes.

That's why he is trying to get a vocational program set up at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

His hope is to be able to combine a curriculum at the higher ed center with existing programs at the high school.

"That way, a trainee or an apprentice can come through our system, develop that education while they're getting that training experience, and be eligible to sit for an exam as soon as they get a two-year degree," Estes said.

Nationally, 70 percent of employees in the industry are expected to retire between 2010 and 2020.

Estes has not set a date for when he would like to have the program set up, but if it can't be set up, he says the service authority will do everything it can to encourage the older employees to stay when they decide to retire.

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