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Succession Planning and Career Development in Public Utility Organizations: A Case Study of Two Skill-Based Programs

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More than ever before, public utilities need employees with greater skills to meet the demands of regulatory compliance, safety and reliability, optimization, community expectations, and loss of workforce due to retirements. At the same time, there is high demand for skilled workers in private sector utilities and other industries. This paper presents how Orange County Utilities (OCU) in Orlando, Florida and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DCWASA) proactively faced this challenge with targeted employee development and career enhancement through training and certification programs.

This paper compares and contrasts the drivers behind the two programs and how their distinct requirements addressed challenges that are common to all utilities regardless of size or location. In the first case, the utility had a mandate from their governing board to achieve certain organizational and financial goals. The paper will further elaborate on how these driving factors were specifically addressed. Certification programs for both operations and maintenance personnel were developed and implemented as a means of improving employee skills and reducing dependence on outsourced services. Additional benefits realized from the program included an increase in employee morale and improved employee buy-in and participation in suggesting programs for improvement. One of the greatest benefits for the utility was the ability to capture institutional knowledge that would have been lost had these programs not been successfully implemented.

The second case is a portrayal where many utilities are relative to employee recruitment, development, and retention. This utility grew rapidly in the 1970s and in the early 1980s during a time when grant funding was available and major capital improvement projects were constructed. Realizing that over time these long-term employees would eventually leave for other jobs or retire, the utility began planning and implementing a skill-based certification program. A business case was developed justifying the program investment. The outcome of both programs yield benefits that are equally measurable and intangible—improving quality of life. This paper explores the drivers behind these programs and common factors that can and should be applied effectively by other utilities.

The paper summarizes the innovative processes that were used by the two utilities and focuses on the outcomes that were achieved. From the outset, utility management realized that for their programs to be effective the planning process had to involve all stakeholders. This presented some unique challenges that were overcome and are currently considered to be program strengths. This paper discusses the roles and importance of various stakeholders throughout the planning process.

When implementing organizational and programmatic change, some resistance from employees will be inevitable. Such is true in both of these utilities. This paper explores the individual employee human side as well as the utility organizational side of program implementation and how it is possible to achieve a balance between the two.

Each of the two programs had unique features that are discussed in this paper. Some elements include the development and demonstration of location-specific skills and others on general skills as necessary for certification examinations. Administrative elements such as employee records, job descriptions, and remedial training for under-skilled personnel are also discussed.

Through monitoring of these programs and evaluating their outcomes, there is compelling evidence that employee productivity has increased markedly. The feedback from program participants answers common questions about the effectiveness, cost, and longevity of such programs. This paper summarizes the feedback obtained from key program participants in both programs and documents the associated utility improvements.

This paper concludes with specific, measurable evidence documenting the effectiveness and success of such programs. The value to utility organizations and our industry as a whole cannot be overstated. This paper summarizes the benefits to the two utilities as well as their respective strategies for sustaining their programs and overall succession planning.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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