Around 2005, many utilities across the country were aware of the statistical data indicating that as the baby boomer generation reached retirement, there would be a substantial number of employees with many years of experience and expertise departing the workforce.
The expected time frame varied with some believing the impact would begin to be felt within five to 10 years while others believed the impact would not occur for 10 to 20 years.
This forecast would create a competitive nature among utilities for technical staff and experienced personnel in unique positions. Everyone knew that this certainly was going to present challenges for the utilities. A strong focus and area of interest became apparent as how to recruit, train/develop and retain the necessary skill base needed to be a viable and productive utility for years to come. Thus, the energy shifted to succession planning. While some organizations consistently had succession planning as part of their business plan, the priority level, efforts and commitment were low. However, this would hopefully all change as we mobilized to address the concerns of lost talent and thus became better talent managers.
Succession planning had to become a high priority for utilities of all sizes and status (public and private). A comprehensive approach to understanding the impacts these changes would have upon the utility was crucial. Therefore the recognition of these changes coupled with planning and support were necessary. Utilities had to act – now and fast!
City with a mission
The city of St. Petersburg, FL, Water Resources Department is one of those utilities that has made it their mission to act now/fast by developing a comprehensive succession plan. To address the forecasted loss of experience and expertise, in 2007 we became very aggressive and developed a four-part plan. It was created to address the employee from a holistic perspective in the areas of education, staff development and training, health and wellness and financial education/wealth building.
The blue print of a succession plan will allow an organization to continue functioning at no less than the current service levels, preferably better, as staff matriculates through promotions, retirements and separations. While this certainly is not a new phenomenon, it has taken on a more urgent and focused effort due to the expectation of the large number of retirees. While the economy has played a role in delaying some exoduses as of late, the impact was still felt in the first year. For example from October 2006 — 2007, the Water Resources Department saw over 30 staff members separate their employment for various reasons, taking with them their knowledge and years of experience.
So one might ask why these four areas and what have been the results? We believe that education (knowledge) is the fundamental base to one’s success. The more knowledgeable one is, the better they are and all of their affiliations. Therefore, we encourage and support staff to pursue degrees of higher education, certifications and licensing. From achieving a bachelor’s degree to becoming a certified operator to a professional engineer or CPA, we encourage our staff. This positions them for future opportunities within the organization. Industry knowledge can only enhance the utility. There have been many activities under this area such as hosting College Educational Fairs and partnering with local colleges and universities to teach specific industry related courses and curriculum offerings. We offer tuition reimbursement and have hosted scholarship sessions to show staff where additional funding might be available.
Staff development and training is another very critical area. Often organizations do not perform enough in this area to ensure their staff gets properly trained and the staff that is promoted gets the training to develop in their new areas of responsibility. This process should be standard procedure that goes beyond just name alone. The Water Resources Department is reviewing its current job training programs and has already revised several to ensure the quality of the materials and the content.
Health and finances
Our employees’ health and wellness is also important to us. We have hosted health forums, cancer screenings, blood and bone marrow drives and we even have fresh fruit and veggies delivered on-site as a healthy alternative to traditional snacks. We also have restocked our vending machines with healthier options, encouraged walking groups, hosted Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Sessions and rolling out in the very new future, we will have a ‘tobacco-free campus’ policy.
When we first presented financial education and wealth building as the fourth component, many were unclear and even skeptical as to how this would impact our succession plan. We wanted to give all of our staff the basic tools for budgeting and also help them to be more responsible in the area of money management. We hosted deferred compensation sessions and taught courses in the areas of budget 101, identity theft and financial planning, just to name a few. We facilitated a Financial and Wealth Building Fair where area banks, credit unions and financial institutions came in to discuss financial matters one-on-one with staff.
We have staff that have transferred to other divisions within our department that would have never done so without our succession plan. Additional skill set learning has become more of the norm than the exception and this culture change has resulted in internal promotions that historically might not have happened.
These are just a few initiatives that are happening in our department that are making a huge and positive difference in our workforce and our plan for future success as a strong and viable utility.
St. Petersburg Water Resources Department Succession Plan is working and we want to share it with others in the industry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dwight D. Wilson is the assistant director of the Water Resources Department for the city of St. Petersburg, FL.