The value of implementing workforce good practices for water utilities

Staff knowledge, skills and motivation are critical factors for delivering high quality water and wastewater services, protecting public health and the environment. What do water organisations do to ensure qualified candidates and staff for mission-critical jobs and overall quality work? Innovation and best practices can be found in utilities around the globe.

In Albania, the Water Supply and Sewerage Association conducted a survey to identify the training needs of staff in their member agencies. Computer-aided design, billing and collection software systems, chlorination disinfection systems, and maintenance were identified as training priorities for utility staff. This cost-effective measure increased the competencies of staff within a number of utilities. In a similar way, the association is developing a training and certification system for water and wastewater treatment operators, with skilled employees of member utilities serving as instructors.

In Australia, Yarra Valley Water has worked since 2001 on building a constructive culture to meet their long-term corporate objectives. The aim is to engage staff productively by aligning their personal values and objectives with those of the organisation. Cultural fit became a measure for all staff. A comprehensive staff development program has a focus on mindset, resilience, innovation, constructive behaviors, goal setting and achievement thinking, as well as more traditional skills training.

A program provides an integrated approach to developing exceptional leaders. It incorporates Mindset, Productive Conversation and Team Culture alongside several more traditional employee lifecycle modules. Yarra Valley Water’s achievements are not only low turnover and low absenteeism, but also an increased customer satisfaction, and high performance in operations and maintenance. This is reflected in Opex reductions, lower levels of complains, reduction on significant injuries and improved financial efficiencies.

 

 

In Nigeria, Port Harcourt Water Corporation has been proactively addressing workforce challenges. Formerly part of the Rivers State Water Board (RSWB), it became a corporate utility in 2012. They recruited the most capable professionals from RSWB while recruiting new staff members, but two key challenges remained; knowledge gaps amongst new staff and; modern technology knowledge gaps amongst more experienced staff.

Two mentorship structures are bridging these capacity gaps. There is a two-year mentorship scheme on Project Management, pairing project staff with an expert consultant for coaching and skill transfer. Within the Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance (GWOPA), PHWC collaborates with the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company. Mentorship activities include exchange visits by both utilities; secondments for on-the-job-training in the partner utility; staff training through seminars, courses, and internships; and on-going information exchange through e-mail, telephone, social media, and other platforms.

ITC has been a significant component of the strategy and a game-changer for internal communication, training and knowledge management. Addressing workforce issues has been a major component toward operational reliability and economic sustainability.

In Egypt, the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW), a semi-governmental organisation for the treatment and distribution of drinking water and safe disposal of wastewater, is implementing an ambitious plan on workforce reliability that is integral to a 5-year strategic planning process for the utility.

To ensure staff competencies, HCWW has developed unified training materials for all staff levels. New employees receive an intensive 6-month training program; continued employment past the 6-month period depends on a successful review of what the candidate has learned. This is complemented with encouragement to staff to enroll in post-graduate studies, expand their knowledge by participating in national and international workshops and conferences, and learn about recent technologies and innovations through supported study tours.

HCWW’s Creative Thinking program targets staff in all job categories to encourage creative thinking for problem solving. Groups select a task to work on, identifying a creative pathway toward a solution and the most effective solution is selected for recognition. The Effective Water Quality Reporting program aims to help chemists, geographic information system, and information technology staff work together to create accurate water quality reports that are understandable to policy-makers and the public.

These examples illustrate just some practices that are ensuring staff is competent and engaged so utilities can achieve operational reliability and high performance. The IWA Specialist Group on Sustainability in the water sector is currently making an effort to gather these and other examples so that water organisations can learn from each other.

The cases and tools are gathered via a survey and in-depth interviews will be included in the Global Guidebook on Workforce Sustainability in the Water Industry, an online resource that we aim to make available in 2017.

You are invited to participate in the survey and share your own examples of good practices in workforce sustainability.

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Sessions covering workforce capacity development at the World Water Congress & Exhibition (Brisbane, 09-13 October, 2016), include:

Capacity Gap: Growing a prepared, diverse workforce

How do water utilities build workforces ready to meet their responsibilities to customers and the environment? This session will give an overview of the components of workforce sustainability focusing on candidate and staff development that ensures diversity.

Workshop

Date: Thursday 13 October, 10:30 – 12:00

Venue: Room 9, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

Cheryl Davis and Diana Guio

Cheryl Davis is a Principal at CKD Consulting and Chair of the IWA Best practices on Workforce Sustainability Specialist Group. Diana Guio worked as independent sustainability consultant prior to join IWA as Learning and Capacity Development Officer... Read full biography

Diana Guio

Learning & Capacity Development Officer
Diana worked as independent sustainability consultant prior to join IWA as Learning and Capacity Development Officer. With a background in chemical engineering and environmental science, Diana has worked on Capacity Development and sustainability iss... Read full biography

Cheryl Davis

Chair