Addressing Workforce Issues is Key
to Effective Utility Management
By Jim Ginley, Cindy Goodburn, and
Richard Gerstberger, P.E.
30 | ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATER MAY 2019
ABOUT 10 YEARS AGO, THE THREE OF US (AND A
handful of others) started the Utility Management
Committee here in the Rocky Mountain region. As
part of the Committee’s mission, we introduced several
management-related ideas, including the concepts of Effective
Utility Management (EUM). A few of us had collaborated in
the multi-association and U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (USEPA) led effort that created the EUM framework
in 2008, so we took the next step and put together the first
EUM workshop along the Front Range in April 2009. The City
of Golden hosted our workshop for nearly 50 utility managers
and other sector professionals interested in learning how to
become a more effective and ultimately more sustainable
Tackling management issues
Back in 2009 and still today, utility managers face(d) some
significant challenges. Managing the double-edged sword of
renewing and replacing aging infrastructure and finding the
money to do it has dominated utility managers’ time for several
years running, followed closely by an inter-related flurry of
topics including operations, water quality, water quantity and
availability, and regulations!
Along with these pressing issues, another that needs our sector’s
attention, but has long been overlooked, is workforce.
Focus on workforce
Why is a focus on workforce or staff or employees important?
Because not a single utility management issue is going to be
solved without a human component. Managers don’t supervise
machines, databases, and the latest in AMI software and
hardware; they supervise people. As slick as the available technology
is that helps with asset management, financial management,
or message management, it’s still our people who
need to identify problems, articulate solutions, teach others
how to do things, write the programs and algorithms for the
machines to use, and tell the story to governance, stakeholders,
For those of you who are managers, you know one of the biggest
things that keeps you up at night is not just water quality,
or finances, or even infrastructure, it’s the people!
“How am I going to find a Class 4 to replace John when he
leaves?” “How are we going to transfer all of Mary’s knowledge
in Customer Service so the younger CSRs can learn even a fraction
of what Mary knows?” “How am I ever going to explain to
Joe in HR the difference between an electrician and a SCADA
technician?” “How can I keep Susan from taking that job at that
These are the things on the mind of a manager. To help
address them, our committee is presenting a three-part series
on workforce issues. This first article helps frame the issue and
identify what our sector needs to work on. The second article
will share some details around two collaborative efforts that
are designed specifically around workforce. To finish the series,
we will share some of the work we have done to tackle these
issues around the Rocky Mountain region, as well as some of
our plans for the future and how you fit in.
Framing the problem
The need to focus on workforce related issues is well-documented.
In 2000 and 2004, the (then) AWWA Research Foundation
facilitated a couple of Futures workshops, bringing
together utility managers and other sector experts (as well as
some actual futurists) to discuss and identify the key trends in
our society overall and how these trends were going to impact
the water sector in the future (AWWA Research Foundation,
2004). The principal investigators published an article that
identified the top-10 trends for our water sector, and among
them was workforce issues (Means et al., 2005).
In his article, Means offered the following suggestions to
utilities on how to address the challenges presented by a
• Create a formal succession plan.
• Design new compensation packages and creative incentives
to retain the best and brightest.
• Develop a high school or university recruiting strategy to
educate counselors on promoting the industry.
• Create incentives for retaining key staff past retirement
• Rehire retiring staff when appropriate to mentor junior staff.
• Establish workforce planning and development programs
that strategically identify needs and then match the skills
required to fill those needs.