Building Bridges to Water Quality and Conservation Work
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) and Lake Champlain Sea Grant are continuing their partnership into 2022 with support for the joint Water Quality and Careers Fellowship. Beginning in early 2020, the fellowship has provided direct support to my position as the Water Quality Manager at VYCC to help me pursue the goal of building bridges for young people to water quality and conservation work. During the past year, the partnership has built synergies and new approaches to how both organizations view this workforce development mission.
With a tumultuous 2020 behind us and a new field season beginning at VYCC, it seems like an appropriate time to share some insights from the last year and highlight the ways in which the partnership has helped steer the direction of VYCC into 2021 and beyond.
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps has served as a central partner in the protection and enhancement of Vermont’s natural resources for over 35 years. Throughout its history, the VYCC has also stayed committed to its primary mission of providing young people with the opportunity to learn and grow.
Of course, the challenges facing young people today are not the same as they were in 1985, nor are they the same as they were just a year or two ago. While COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our daily lives, it has also accelerated certain trends and highlighted vulnerabilities within our communities.
One of the biggest challenges we see as we look to rebuild from the pandemic is how to ensure a robust and accessible labor market that meets the needs of our environment and that addresses the needs of the next generation of workers. This evolving challenge is where the collaboration between VYCC and Lake Champlain Sea Grant stands to provide the greatest service—to give young people the resources and support they need to transition into the workforce and to engage with the industry partners that are creating opportunities and making a difference in our environment and in our communities moving forward.
Building the Next-Generation Workforce
Each field season, VYCC employs hundreds of youth and young adults who complete projects in trail building, water quality, forestry, agriculture and food production, and carpentry, among other fields. While VYCC has a long history of creating powerful experiences for its participants, the organization wants to do more to differentiate the experience and outcomes for people who are in different stages of life and careers. This means creating a progression through the organization, from a high school student looking for a summer job that gets them general exposure to conservation work, to a young adult looking to expand on their skill set for a specific job.
This also means providing education and training initiatives that support this scaffolding of experience. For instance, VYCC is now offering young adult crew positions that specialize in water quality work for their whole season. We are working closely with Lake Champlain Sea Grant’s Watershed Alliance staff to expose these water quality crews to career opportunities in the field and to curate education initiatives that help participants connect with the meaning of their work. These crews will also serve as a model for other specialty crew experiences in other sectors at VYCC.
Supporting Next-Generation Industry
Yet, training a capable workforce is only half of the equation. It is also critical for us to understand the needs of the specific industries we work in and how they may be changing. An example of this approach is VYCC and Lake Champlain Sea Grant’s attention to the growing Green Stormwater Infrastructure, or GSI, industry. This technology utilizes natural hydrologic processes to reduce the volume and impact of stormwater on our surface waters. Learn more about GSI from this Vermont Agency of Natural Resources fact sheet (PDF).
With significant increases in funding for Vermont’s Clean Water Initiative and growing evidence of its efficacy, use of GSI technology continues to gain momentum as a critical part of the solution. As growing demand for GSI requires more engineers and contractors capable of designing and building these systems, it will also require a knowledgeable labor force ready to take on the necessary long-term operation and maintenance tasks to ensure the systems function properly.
Recognizing the potential growth of the GSI sector in Vermont has allowed VYCC and Lake Champlain Sea Grant to join forces and advance conversations at the state and local levels regarding operation and maintenance standards, funding mechanisms, and possible training and certification programs to support this emerging industry.
Looking back at the difficult year we all experienced navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty it brought with it, VYCC is thankful to have resilient and valuable partnerships. Building pathways for young people into impactful and fulfilling careers remains at the forefront of our mission. The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is thankful for the continued support from Lake Champlain Sea Grant and enthusiastic about the year ahead.
Do you know a young adult looking to get outside, build their skills, and learn on the job this summer? VYCC is now hiring for our Farm Crews, Conservation Crews, and Pro Crews! Some crews work during the day only; others camp out near their work site. Crews take on a diversity of projects from growing vegetables to completing backcountry carpentry projects to trail construction and water quality improvement! Read more and apply: vycc.org/apply