Are You Prepared to Handle Labor Shortages in Your Water Utilities?

By Sandra Fallon and Mark Kemp, National Environmental Services Center (word count 1,199 By now, we!ve all "eard a#out t"e droves o$ #a#y #oomers %ettin% ready to retire& 't!s an issue t"at will a$$ect all workplaces to one de%ree or anot"er, and it looks to #e particularly severe $or water and wastewater utilities& Nationwide, almost "al$ o$ t"ese workers will #e eli%i#le to retire wit"in t"e ne(t 1) years& 't!s an issue t"at most pu#lic o$$icials and utilities "aven!t considered ade*uately and aren!t prepared to "andle& +"ile water and wastewater utilities will lose #ot" operators and en%ineers, operators represent t"e most ur%ent sta$$in% need and are t"e $ocus o$ t"is article& ,"ese workers are trained pro$essionals wit" an enormous amount o$ responsi#ility $or sa$e%uardin% t"e pu#lic "ealt" and t"e environment& +e depend on t"em to provide clean, sa$e drinkin% water to our communities and treat our wastewater so t"at it can #e sa$ely released #ack into local waterways& ,"eir e$$orts ensure t"at we "ave t"e amount o$ water we need, w"en we need it, nonstop around-t"e-clock& ,"e pendin% wave o$ retirin% operators poses two central c"allen%es $or utilities and t"ose w"o oversee t"ese community services. (1 "ow do we replace t"e workers w"o will leave over t"e ne(t several years and (/ "ow do we capture t"e knowled%e and e(perience t"at t"ese people "ave0 1ur response to t"is situation will "ave lon%-standin% implications $or utilities and communities, lar%e and small& ,wo key reports—Workforce Planning for Water Utilities—Successful Recruiting, Training, and Retaining of Operators and Engineers, and Succession Planning for a Vital Workforce in the Information ge—e(amine water and wastewater utility work$orce issues and o$$er practical and encoura%in% recommendations $or addressin% t"e pendin% crisis& Some "i%"li%"ts o$ t"e recommendations are #elow& Actively Recruit Operators fro !raditional and "e# Pools of Applicants 2tilities must acti!el" recruit operators $rom traditional sources, suc" as "i%" sc"ools and community colle%es, as well as $rom new, untapped la#or pools suc" as older workers, displaced workers, and military veterans& 3lt"ou%" some o$ t"e most e$$ective recruitin% strate%ies $or operators continue to #e employee re$errals, 'nternet 4o# sites, and newspapers, active and e$$ective recruitin% %oes #eyond t"ese approac"es& 't re*uires reac"in% out and $osterin% #etter relations"ips wit" t"ese la#or pools, in ot"er words, developin% a competitive ed%e in attractin% t"ese workers& 2tilities can, $or e(ample. • 5artner wit" sc"ools $rom t"e elementary to colle%e level to provide e(posure to and develop students! interest in water industry careers& ,"is can include sponsorin% summer camps, partnerin% $or $ield trips or classroom activities, and workin% wit" sc"ool placement o$$ices to %ain access to potential applicants& • Form alliances wit" %roups t"at work wit" or represent new pools o$ applicants suc" as military veterans and retired or older workers #y colla#oratin% on trainin% opportunities, advertisin% t"rou%" t"eir pu#lications or +e# sites, or participatin% in 4o# $airs& • Monitor plant closin%s and ot"er economic activities in your area or re%ion to identi$y potential candidates& • 2se creative work arran%ements suc" as recruitin% and re-"irin% people w"o "ave retired $rom your $acility, and o$$erin% #onuses or rewards $or employee re$errals& 1

and t"e 'nternet. participatin% in or sponsorin% community events suc" as nei%"#or"ood or 4o# $airs. and disa#led and culturally diverse workers. eit"er alone or in con4unction wit" ot"er utilities or educational institutions. colla#orate on work$orce plannin%. it!s important to %et started sooner t"an later& . provide c"allen%in% work. reco%ni6e t"e importance o$ trainin% and skill development. colla#oratin% wit" local %roups or "ostin% your own pu#lic education seminars on water topics& Be sure to alert t"e local media a#out your positive community e$$orts& &raft S all Syste Solutions Small utilities o$ten lack t"e personnel and resources to take on new pro4ects suc" as t"ose identi$ied a#ove& 9owever. %ainin% support $rom local leaders and developin% creative partners"ips wit" near#y utilities to. and promote acceptance. t"ey take wit" t"em years o$ e(perience. #ill#oards. $or e(ample. and re-"ire retirees on a consultin% #asis& &apture !acit 'no#ledge +"en operators leave or retire. in$ormation. maintenance. or raise pu#lic awareness can "elp ensure success& 3dmittedly. or #y documentin% it. women. simple steps& Nevert"eless. workin% wit" t"e #oard or city council8t"e nuts and #olts o$ t"e system as well as its stren%t" and weaknesses& 5reventin% t"is loss o$ institutional knowled%e saves time and money. s"are employees. and con$idence t"at we won!t compromise t"e *uality o$ li$e or pu#lic "ealt" o$ our communities& / . t"e prospect o$ simultaneously %ettin% new personnel on #oard and tryin% to capture t"e collected wisdom o$ t"ose leavin% is a dauntin% one& . and enlistin% *uali$ied e(perienced workers or retirees to train or mentor less e(perienced workers& 1perators need to know a#out all plant processes and e*uipment. and lessons learned a#out runnin% your utility& Capture t"at tacit knowled%e in any way you can8eit"er t"rou%" $ormal knowled%e mana%ement processes."e demo%rap"ic c"an%es we $ace are comple( and won!t necessarily #e remedied t"rou%" *uick. • Make compensation competitive wit" ot"er entities you compete wit" $or employees& • 1$$er an apprentices"ip pro%ram $or developin% operators. w"ic" can include allowin% t"em to delay retirement or work part-time. includin% older and youn%er workers."ese e$$orts will ultimately lead to a deeper understandin% o$ our utilities.$ prove % ployee Retention Makin% sure your operators are en%a%ed and committed to your or%ani6ation increases t"e likeli"ood t"at t"ey!ll stay and reduces t"e need $or recruitin%& . emer%ency plannin%. includin% operations. keeps operations runnin% smoot"ly. and "elps ease work$orce transitions& Pro ote a Positive $ age of Your Utilities 7aisin% awareness a#out your water utilities can "elp create name reco%nition and an understandin% o$ t"e environmental si%ni$icance o$ your work& 5otentially it can result in employees seekin% employment wit" you& Some o$ t"e many strate%ies include advertisin% on #uses. a #etter e(perience $or system personnel. and o$$er opportunities $or employee input and career %rowt"& • 7etain older workers t"rou%" p"ased-retirement approac"es.o improve retention. writin% it down. and ensure t"at employees receive up-to-date leaders"ip and tec"nical trainin%& • Make sure t"e operators you want to retain understand "ow t"ey are re%arded #y your or%ani6ation& 7eco%ni6e employees $or t"eir accomplis"ments& • 2nderstand and meet t"e needs and interests o$ all workers.

and t"e +ater Environment 7esearc" Foundation& 5u#lis"ed #y +7F and 3merican +ater +orks 3ssociation (3++3 & 3vaila#le $or purc"ase $rom 3++3 at "ttp.)1 o$$ers in$ormation. and Retaining of Operators and Engineers (/)): (Catalo% No& 91/. pp& 1:-/.. educational resources.& National Environmental Services Center& "ttp. tec"nical assistance via telep"one. and documentin% tacit knowled%e& Sponsored #y t"e 3merican +ater +orks 3ssociation 7esearc" Foundation.7 8992-: % ail.==apps&awwa&or%=e#usmain=1nlineStore=5roduct>etail=ta#id=??=>e$ault&asp(0 5roduct'>@:)AAB +7F su#scri#ers can order $rom :::-:CC-?):/ or "ttp. Dolume ?. now t"e +ater 7esearc" Foundation (+7F .Esu)?Ec"an%in%&pd$ FFF About the Rural &o unity Assistance Partnership (R&AP) and the "ational %nviron ental Services &enter ("%S&) 7C35 (www&rcap&or% and its pro%rams across t"e country o$$er water and wastewater trainin% and assistance to small and rural communities. tri#es. 'ssue /.< & 'denti$ies practical met"ods water utilities can implement to "andle t"e upcomin% la#or crisis& Sponsored #y t"e 3merican +ater +orks 3ssociation 7esearc" Foundation. now t"e +ater 7esearc" Foundation (+7F . . 2.==www&nesc&wvu&edu=ndwc=articles=1.==apps&awwa&or%=e#usmain=1nlineStore=5roduct>etail=ta#id=??=>e$ault&asp(0 5roduct'>@<9. Sandra 0allon1 "ational %nviron ental Services &enter Phone. and water utilities& NESC (www&nesc&wvu&eduB :))-A/C-:.=S2)?=1. ail<#vu<edu ./ &ontact.==www&waterresearc"$oundation&or%=researc"=.34-5326. Training.:B +7F su#scri#ers can order $rom :::-:CC-?):/ or "ttp. Septe ber -. and t"e 2&S& Environmental 5rotection 3%ency& 5u#lis"ed #y +7F& 3vaila#le $or purc"ase $rom.References and Resources Workforce Planning for Water Utilities—Successful Recruiting. "ttp.opics3nd5ro4ects=pro4ect5ro$ile&asp(0 pn@/:?) Succession Planning for a Vital Workforce in the Information ge (/))? (Catalo% No& 91)9) & 5rovides %uidance and in$ormation a#out t"e upcomin% water utility work$orce s"orta%e. implementin% work$orce plannin%.opics3nd5ro4ects=pro4ect5ro$ile&asp(0 pn@C))? #5lannin% $or a c"an%in% work$orce #e$ore your employees are all %one$ (Summer /))? & 'n On Tap. and ma%a6ines and newsletters addressin% water and wastewater issues $or t"ese same audiences& Author *ios Sandra Fallon is a trainin% specialist wit" t"e National Environmental Services Center and "as developed many educational resources addressin% water issues $or small community o$$icials& Mark Kemp is t"e National Environmental Services Center!s communications mana%er and 1n .. sfallon.ap editor& +ate of article release.==www&waterresearc"$oundation&or%=researc"=.