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Getting Ready for the Next “Hurricane”: Responding to Impending Workforce Pressures in Jacksonville

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The “Perfect Storm”

The fact should be well known by now that water and wastewater utilities are entering an era of unprecedented reduced human resource availability with the brain drain implications. If unaddressed, there is a time certain when the supply of workers will not keep up with the demand and service levels could significantly suffer. Water and wastewater utilities are particularly vulnerable to this supply trend because most workers have spent the majority of their work lives with the same utility and, thus, more can retire in a short period of time. Beliefs about values are also changing with post-baby boomer generation workers and they need to be understood. Once they retire, where will we find the people needed to fill jobs critical to the future of the business? When new people are hired, how will we effectively develop and place them in positions they can be most effective and most satisfied? Ultimately, what does it take for a utility to be prepared?

JEA, a combined electric, water and wastewater utility located in Jacksonville, Florida, has been preparing and executing strategies to address these workforce challenges. A lot is on the line with a regular workforce of approximately 2,000 employees and more than 360,000 customers. JEA is the second-largest water and wastewater utility in Florida and is already experiencing difficulty hiring qualified employees in certain positions. Since recruiting and retaining quality employees will become even more difficult in the future, JEA has developed and implemented a workforce readiness plan to address this issue today.

This paper characterizes the problems and risks at a national level and from a Florida perspective and how JEA is leveraging it as an opportunity. Identified are the key preparation steps to minimize the adverse effects of this otherwise looming crisis and the results JEA has achieved so far.

Planning and Preparation are the Keys

In 2006, JEA's Executive Management Team developed four focus areas necessary to achieve a balanced organization, known within the utility today as the Circle of Excellence. One of these focus areas, defined as Organizational Effectiveness, asks: “Do we have the right skills and the right organizational design to accomplish the job?” Within the Organizational Effectiveness focus area there are three determined focus areas: Business Alignment, Workforce Environment and Workforce Readiness. While they are interrelated, this paper's main emphasis is on the Workforce Readiness initiative strategies and accomplishments so far.

JEA's Workforce Readiness Initiatives

Workforce Readiness at JEA has a two-fold purpose:

To maintain a best-practices workforce through the investment of time and resources in right-sizing the workforce; succession planning; safety, health, technical and business training; and by providing competitive compensation and benefits.

To ensure that JEA has the skilled and diverse workforce that is needed, equipped to perform in a dynamic and complex utility environment, both now and in the future.

Organizational Design. Establish initial target staffing levels, determine allocation (FTE) recommendations, and develop philosophies for insourcing vs. outsourcing, and supplemental workforce.

Completed: A benchmarking study was completed in the spring of 2007, which measured JEA water infrastructure, treatment, employees and customer data in comparison to other utility companies. The data collected is being used to support additional staffing requests.

Knowledge Transfer. Define and determine vital person and vital work activities, evaluating bench strength and determining gaps, and recommending knowledge transfer methodologies.

Completed: Interviewed all water and wastewater employees; a prioritized list of vital people/vital work activities and knowledge transfer recommendations was completed in April 2007.

Training and Career Development. Develop qualified, knowledgeable candidates to help JEA meet our long-term business needs.

Ongoing program: Co-ops are employed throughout JEA in all engineering disciplines, natural science, information technology, and finance.

Completed: Obtained approval as a provider for coursework for upcoming state licensing requirements for JEA's skilled craft apprenticeship programs; included is a maintenance mechanic-utilities (pipe fitter/equipment operator) position.

Ongoing program: Development of executive leadership and employee development succession planning programs, implementation of knowledge transfer methodologies (for vital people/work activities identified by the Knowledge Transfer team), career pathing and development, and mentoring initiatives.

Policies, Procedures, and Systems. Develop a list of short-and-long-term objectives for improved organizational effectiveness.

Underway: Implementation plan and timeline to be delivered in summer 2007.

Compensation/Benefits. Review JEA's total pay philosophy, compensation structure, pension options, and defined contribution plans

Underway: currently under evaluation.

Flexible Hiring. Define concerns with the current recruitment process,

Underway: determine specialized recruitment needs for prioritized positions, and implement modifications to achieve target staffing levels.

External Marketing of Utility Careers. Form partnerships with high schools in our service area offering programs that align with JEA's business needs and to give students an early glimpse at the opportunities utility careers can offer them‥

Underway: JEA is building relationships with students, faculties and administrators of career academies and identifying external resources that support JEA's workforce planning needs.

Overall Expected Benefits

Successful initiatives have one thing in common: tangible benefits. JEA has only recently begun the path towards becoming sustainable employer of choice. Some of the expected and realized results of choosing this strategy include:

Retaining key talented staff by offering meaningful work and a chance to make a tangible difference through effective placement

Attract younger generations who are more socially and environmentally conscience than before by maintaining and growing a strong reputation.

Better and easier outreach as successes are achieve.

A better and higher quality talent pool for availability both externally and internally. This helps sustain operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Conclusion – Abstract

JEA's Workforce Readiness initiatives collectively must contribute to retaining and creating a steady pipeline of qualified, diverse candidates who understand the skills and abilities needed for successful careers in the utility industry. JEA must ensure that new employees have the basic skills they need to be productive employees. Working with and attracting young people in the community to stable, fairly compensated jobs provides a source of qualified and motivated future employees with real-world skills, and enable us to compete for the best candidates. Success is defined as every aspect of workforce planning-process improvement, recruitment, training, retention, leadership development and knowledge transfer is in concert and providing a first-rate, appropriately-sized workforce equipped to meet the service needs of the community both now and in the future.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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