Nov 25, 2008

AwwaRF Research Addresses Water Utility Labor Force Crisis

Workshop in early November focused on collaboration to address workforce challenges

Water utilities are facing a workforce crisis, caused by impending retirements and shifting demographics, increasing diversity and a declining number of students receiving scientific and technical degrees, according to participants of a workshop co-sponsored by the Awwa Research Foundation (AwwaRF).

The workshop, held Nov. 6 to 7 in Washington, D.C., was co-sponsored with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) as part of a joint initiative on water sector workforce sustainability. The initiative is addressing workforce challenges by conducting a needs assessment to understand workforce issues for the water industry. The initiative is also identifying best management practices and developing collaborative approaches to address the impending workforce crisis. At the workshop, representatives from water utilities and funding organizations, as well as agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, focused on opportunities for collaboration that will result in a single, unified water-sector approach. By working together cooperatively, utilities can more effectively address workforce challenges, one of their top five most critical issues as identified in a recent AWWA survey of the water industry.

“To some extent, the water sector is facing the exodus of baby boomers from the workplace sooner than the general population,” said Robert C. Renner, executive director of AwwaRF. “And it’s estimated to continue over the next 10 to 15 years. The challenges facing water suppliers mirror the shift in the U.S. labor force as a whole. AwwaRF has sponsored research in anticipation of this trend to provide water utility managers with the data they need for planning and to help them develop effective strategies.”

Studies funded by AwwaRF, both solely and in collaboration with other organizations, have produced valuable findings for the water supply community.

According to Renner, AwwaRF will continue to sponsor research to assist utilities with strategies, tools and techniques developed through research to retain knowledge of the retiring and shifting workforce, in addition to its other topics of study. “Workforce planning is just one of the many challenges our water utilities face that are being addressed through AwwaRF-sponsored research,” Renner said.