LEADing THE WAY IN WORKFORCE PLANNING

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Abstract:

Over the past 50 years, the wastewater industry has seen significant changes. From basic primary treatment, to secondary treatment, to tertiary treatment, to ozone disinfection, to recycled water, to biosolids recycling – there are constantly new and improving technologies to help us do our job even better and continue to improve the world's environment. However, technology can only go so far – there will always be the human element that is necessary to operate and maintain these facilities. Whether it is a single operator at a fully automated facility, or a staff of 200, we must recognize that these individuals who are on the front line of operations and maintenance of wastewater facilities are critical to the success of the work that we do.

In addition to the changes in treatment technology, the workforce has changed. Specifically, a significant percentage of workers are nearing retirement. The majority of operators and maintenance staff in leadership positions in their organizations are from the baby-boom generation. As these individuals look forward to retirement, the industry must look forward and plan for tomorrow's leaders. It is anticipated that within the next five to ten years, the majority of supervisors, superintendents, managers and other senior level staff will turn over and be staffed with new individuals. Along with planning for preserving the knowledge and experience of these retiring individuals, organizations must also plan for filling these positions with qualified and well-trained staff. Typically it boosts employee morale to promote from within. Also, existing staff is familiar with the organization and has the technical expertise and knowledge needed to operate and maintain the organization's facilities. So how does an organization capitalize on this in-house expertise and supplement their staff's technical skills with those skills necessary to successfully move up in the organization? How does an organization “grow their own?”

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD or the District) in Oakland, California, has successfully taken on this challenge of training tomorrow's leaders. Since January 2004, the District has trained thirty-nine prospective supervisors and managers in their LEAD Academy program. This twelve-week program, which is currently open only to journey level employees in Operations and Maintenance, is designed to assist these individuals in developing leadership skills that are critical to success in District supervisory positions. Participation in the LEAD Academy does not guarantee promotion, but it is expected that Academy graduates will be better prepared to compete for promotional opportunities and, if promoted, to perform at an above average level.

Participants in the academy are selected through a highly competitive process. The application process requires the submittal of an application and demonstration of proficiency in mathematics and English at a level sufficient to perform as a supervisor. The selection process also includes an oral interview with the participant's superintendent and division manager. The first LEAD Academy was conducted from February 19, 2004 to May 13, 2004. Over 42 applications were received for the twenty available openings in this class. The second LEAD Academy was conducted from September 13, 2004 through December13, 2004. For this class, 40 applications were received for the twenty available slots.

Each applicant is required to attend 8 hours of classroom training each week, four on personal time, and four on District time. In addition, participants must complete weekly homework assignments on their own time. Finally, each participant is paired with a mentor, who is a volunteer District employee that is in supervision or management. The intent of the mentoring element of the program is to provide more of a personalized program where experienced supervisors and managers are available to enhance the participants' training. For the first academy, 100% of the participants graduated, and the second class had a 95% graduation rate. What is it about this program that generates such a strong interest by District staff, and continues to motivate and stimulate the participants throughout the program?

This paper will provide a comprehensive description of EBMUD's LEAD Academy from the perspective of one of the past participants and her mentor. An overview of the development of the program will be presented, and detailed information on the topics covered in the twelve weeks of training will be highlighted. In addition, the mentoring relationship will be assessed and the benefits realized by the participant and mentor through their involvement in the LEAD Academy will be discussed.

Planning must begin now for tomorrow's leaders. EBMUD's LEAD Academy is one way that this can be done. The LEAD Academy is a program that can be adapted to every wastewater agency to insure a smooth transition of leadership in the years to come.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864705783867729

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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