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Overcoming Utility Workforce Challenges with Software
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Overcoming Utility Workforce Challenges with Software

The drinking water and wastewater industry is facing a challenge many managers and organizations are already being forced to address—a utility workforce shortage.  

These utilities can expect a 37% decrease in the workforce over the next decade due to attrition. According to a 2020 report published by the American Public Works Association (APWA), more than half of all water and wastewater utilities nationally have just one or two employees. Eighty-five percent have three or fewer.  

As a result, the industry is facing limited labor pools, and when compounding it with increasing rates of retirement, the impact on operations is significant.  

Attracting Top Talent with Digital Transformation 

An aging workforce makes succession planning urgent, and attracting and retaining employees is becoming more and more crucial.  

Not only are utilities implementing programs to address this issue, but federal agencies, such as the EPA, also are developing workforce initiatives to combat the imminent labor shortages.  

Utilities and government agencies are developing awareness campaigns and accessible programs to attract youth to the industry. Still, convincing new graduates and young professionals—Generation Z and Millennials—will take more than campaigns. It will require a fundamental change in the industry.  

Fast Company’s CEO Purpose Report found that 98% of CEOs agreed that the new generation of talent has expectations that challenge previously established norms of employee experience. 

By creatively addressing a common key challenge—digitization—utilities can position themselves to compete in the battle for talent. 

The workforce is changing.  

Gone are the days of the 9-to-5 where people sit at their desks in the same office and share information by the water cooler. The pandemic accelerated a shift that had already begun, proving to employers and employees alike that remote work, well, works. 

Building a Remote Workforce & Empowering Field Work

Technological advancements such as mobile field data collection apps have made it possible for utility workers to be unchained from desks, empowering field staff with new efficiencies, greater visibility into assets’ health, and increased confidence in data collected remotely.  

There’s no doubt that our workforce has evolved in a short time: Organizations that had lagged in the adoption of digital tools and processes were spurred into action, with one in three companies deciding to pursue digital transformation due to COVID-19.  

The result? Digital collaboration and communication applications and processes to support remote workers and remove business silos to support remote cross-functional collaboration. 

What if we maintained that momentum? What if we embraced digital transformation to increase the industry’s resilience and draw in a new wave of talent? 

Embracing the Utility Workforce Transformation

The generational change within the water sector means that new talent is joining organizations. By combining the best of all generations, it is possible to move towards collaborative and interdisciplinary ways of working and speed up the change that has already begun. 

Ensure you select modern, best-in-class, cloud-based solutions that will appeal to younger employees and choose a partner that will help you on your journey. 

Aside from attracting new talent, technology can also help teams get more done with less, making it possible to reach targets even with an overstretched budget & workforce.  

Technology such our Compliance & Operations data management solution have the ability to automate processes, workflows, reporting, data validation, and analytics. Historical and current data helps predict asset performance, providing better insights that helps utilities predictive maintenance and overall better data accessibility.  

Technology isn’t here to replace workers: it’s here to make life easier for them.  

While new technologies have their own complexities, ultimately data-driven efforts boost efficiency and optimize processes, providing even small-scale utilities with the opportunity to get more from their available resources.  

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How to Get Started

Moving forward, the water industry’s ability to overcome the disruptions of an aging workforce will rest on how willing the industry is to embrace digitalization and data. 

Better data management solutions and training systems such as the ones Aquatic Informatics provide help ensure that new professionals have resources that can supplement knowledge gaps in an array of settings, from how best to react during a disruption to pinpointing if and why an asset isn’t running properly. They also make data and information more accessible for all workers new and experienced, in addition to providing opportunities to gather more preventative action items rather than just reactive measures. 

The problem? The effectiveness of digital solutions relies on the willingness of the water industry and its workers to embrace them. So how can you ensure a successful and sustainable digital transformation?  

Technology analyst firm Gartner recommends the following strategic workforce plan to complement your digital transformation: 

  • Recruit for technical versatility: Seek staff with the ability to adapt and work in more versatile technology roles.
  • Focus on collaboration & engagement: Prepare staff to flex models of working and collaborate directly with business partners.
  • Create experience-based career paths: Offer new pathways that give staff experience for growth
  • Build fusion teams: Mix delivery teams with IT and staff from other functions to embrace agile at scale
  • Foster a climate of openness: Promote appropriate risk taking and adaptability to digital business models
  • Invest in diversity: Strengthen retention and development for women and other under-represented groups.

Find Your Partner in Change Management

As utilities progress on their digital transformation journey, one of the main challenges they face is resistance to change.

Technology partners can help organizations guide their change management strategies to ensure the success of any new technology projects. While every water organization is unique, many of the challenges are similar: legacy systems, data silos, lack of resources, etc.

Experienced technology partners like Aquatic Informatics have seen it all before and can help you overcome any issues that arise as you plot your journey. From source water through to the receiving environment, our interconnected data management platforms can help you drive the efficient management of water information across the water cycle with minimal disruption to your operations.

Get in touch to discuss your water data projects, check out our upcoming product demo, or schedule a personalized demo of our platforms.

Further Reading

Amber Jelly
Amber Jelly

Mar 20 | 2023
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