By M. Lane Crider P.E., LEED AP
Last week, probably like many of you, I participated in another virtual meeting. This online meeting was hosted by an organization of the nation’s largest publicly owned water utilities and was focused on the current topics and challenges facing the water industry and utilities like Beaver Water District (BWD). Large water utilities from around the country were well represented and there were many issues presented, including new regulatory concerns, water accessibility and affordability, and emerging technologies. However, the greatest area of current concern and focus was workforce development and retention. And it wasn’t even close.
For generations, the water industry has typically been viewed as a fairly stable, and somewhat “blue-collar” industry with normally higher than average career longevity. Across the country, utilities are facing a crisis because more than half of the current workforce is at, or nearing, retirement age and they are faced with a significant gap in experience and preparedness. This holds especially true with licensed-required jobs like water operators, electricians, and others.
With a few exceptions, and I believe that BWD is one, the water industry as a whole has always been a “behind-the-scenes” work environment. Therefore, communicating the importance of these jobs has not been a focus of many in the industry…until now. One of the most important aspects of both attracting and retaining employees is communication. The water industry is full of well-paying, mission-driven jobs, but utilities don’t always proactively communicate the positions available, or the great work that’s being done. The next generation of workers look for meaningful high growth opportunities in their work–and the water industry can provide both.
At Beaver Water District, career opportunities abound…from licensed water operators to diesel and mechanical technicians. From licensed electricians, environmental educators, and engineers to finance and administration, we have a broad and diverse workforce focused on a singular and critical mission…to sustainably provide our customer cities with safe, economical drinking water. To sustain our Mission, we must sustain and support our most valuable resource, our employees. BWD is taking that a step further as we strive to fulfill our Vision “…to support the quality of life and economic growth of Northwest Arkansas…” by supporting the workforce development of our customer cities. Whether through local partnerships with our school districts and technical colleges, or state-wide workforce initiatives like the Associated Industries of Arkansas Foundation’s Be Pro Be Proud – Arkansas, BWD is preparing for our future workforce.
We are also focusing on workforce retention. Beaver Water District is a great place to work if I do say so myself! Just take one look at the campus, facilities, and pride of our staff; the integrity and skill with which they perform their jobs shines through every day. We cannot, however, rest on our laurels. In addition to attracting a new generation of employees to fill the gaps that will come with the retirement wave, BWD and utilities around the country must prioritize retaining their current workforce. It’s more important than ever to retain those valued team members who aren’t yet at retirement age, rather than spend additional time recruiting for replacements or trying to fill knowledge gaps.
So much of employee retention is about value. It’s absolutely essential to make sure employees know that their work is making an impact, both within the utility and in the broader community. That comes from communicating the opportunities within the water industry and making sure that the communities we serve understand the value of water. You’ll find more details of the topics I’ve mentioned in this edition of The Source and the efforts of Beaver Water District to focus on tomorrow!