How to Enable Utility Plant Managers to Thrive

How to Enable Utility Plant Managers to Thrive

Water and wastewater managers are a critical, yet underappreciated member of any community providing these critical services to their residents. The stakes have always been high for managers, but today financial and local support are shrinking, while consumers are demanding a more responsive, communicative service. Many utility managers I worked with are overwhelmed by their new assumed roles and I believe it is important for all levels of utility management to understand that they are not the only ones feeling this increased pressure.  I wrote about this issue in the March edition of WaterWorld to offer strategies utilities can implement to meet their rising demands. I outline the major strategies below, but you can read the entire article here.

Give Employees the Training They Need to Succeed

Training empowers managers to be skilled and flexible in all aspects of their expanded role. The sheer amount and diversity of skills managers need to be successful—everything from accounting to social media— can be intimidating and these skills need to be nurtured and appreciated. Putting professional development at the core of your business model can ensure that your employees can keep up with the increasing demands and remain engaged and productive.

Be Competitive 

Many utilities are faced with a looming retirement wave and are unable to comply with their regulatory required staffing levels, let alone find personnel with the advanced technological skill set their utilities need. By offering competitive wages and professional development programs like internships and mentoring programs, you can make your utility stand out among other departments requiring skilled, licensed operator jobs.

Don’t Just Spend, Invest in the Plant

My previous suggestions don’t require upfront capital to work, but rather a firm commitment of resources by town or city management. However, water and wastewater utilities need to start looking at their operating budgets with a long-term vision. By investing in employees, utilities will retain talent and will spend less time training and recruiting staff in the future. Capital investment in technological advancements and software efficiencies can also save money in the long run. An example I’ll share is one where we worked with a small utility that was having a hard time meeting minimum licensed staffing needs. By investing $30,000 in SCADA system upgrades and repairs, they eliminated the need for staffing an entire shift, reduced staff overtime hours, enabled remote operations, and in the end, saved over $70,000 a year in staffing costs. Since the SCADA project completion, the utility has saved over $300,000, making its return on investment ten-fold.

To receive the funds needed to make these long-term investments, utility managers to be well educated about the numerous and sometimes complicated grants and funding opportunities available to their community. Loans with principal forgiveness like State Revolving Funds can be a great resource for facility upgrades—especially when projects are designed to pay off over time.

If you have any additional questions about plant training, budgeting or operations, please reach out to me at proux@woodardcurran.com
 

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