In mid-April, we hosted the Municipal Wastewater Summit, an invitation-only event that connects utility directors with solutions providers. Solutions providers presented information on their products, equipment and services, and utility directors had time to engage with them in one-on-one conversations to ask questions specific to their utility and use case.
Over the course of the event, the directors also engaged in round table discussions with their peers on some of the most pressing issues facing the water industry. While some were concerned with funding and regulations, others discussed asset management strategies and how they are trying to address problems with their workforce.
In fact, workforce hiring and retention was the number one concern I heard from the directors at the event in my one-on-one conversations with them. The issues of hiring appear to lie in a lack of awareness and encouragement from communities and educational institutions to push students to enter trade schools as an alternative to university.
And on the retention side, the issue brought up two interesting nuances. On one hand, utilities offer a lot to new operators in terms of benefits, salary and paying for education. That investment, however, is undercut by neighboring utilities or private industry who will pay more, leading employees to leave after only a few months or a couple of years.
On the other hand, retention can appear to be a non-issue for career employees, as many workers have 20 years or more of experience with their utility. So is retention really the problem?
The questions then became two-fold: where is the breakpoint that an employee becomes loyal to the utility to build a career, and how can we ensure those employees make it to that break point? Perhaps the 2023 WWD Young Pros feature on page 14 may hold some answers.