November 2019 Vol. 74 No. 11

Editor's Log

Value of Knowledge

I recently attended the annual meeting of the Industry Advisory Board for the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech University. It’s something I’ve been involved with for decades and thoroughly enjoy. Networking with industry experts, learning of cutting-edge research and discussing additional research directions that can influence and benefit the market place is very interesting and rewarding.

While at the meeting, three new honorary members were elected. These historic TTC participants have contributed mightily to both the TTC and industry in general: Lynn Osborn, Kaleel Rahaim and Dr. Tom Iseley. All three have retired from their long-term jobs but, perhaps just as importantly, are remaining actively involved within the industry. The three represent a contractor, supplier and educator. All very different, yet intricately connected professions.

Lynn wrapped up his career as senior applications manager at Insituform after 31 years. In the CIPP world, he designed incredible and complex projects that continuously pushed the industry forward. Lynn was active – and still is – in important industry organizations that maintain the quality and high standards of the rehabilitation market. He has spent the last few years as NASSCO Technical Director and remains today as a prestigious member of the NASSCO Technical Council. In October, he became president of the board of governors for the Utility Engineering & Surveying Institute of ASCE.

Kaleel has led a similar life in the resins industry for AOC. A chemical engineer, Kaleel worked closely with CIPP companies and individuals like Lynn, striving to deal with industry needs, solve problems and help move the rehabilitation industry into the future. He, too, remains active in efforts to maintain the quality and future of the rehabilitation market. He has also returned to college to obtain an additional degree in civil engineering.

Dr. Tom has always had a thirst for knowledge and an internal mandate to share that knowledge with new generations across the globe. He will always be renowned for his efforts to teach, train and expose people to the significance of emerging technologies and managing our infrastructure assets. He was the founder of the Trenchless Technology Center and co-founder of the Buried Asset Management Institute – International. He continues to work with the TTC, helping to establish and grow additional, ambitious facilities and training efforts.

No doubt all three will remain involved with industry. That’s a critical benefit for the underground infrastructure industry, as their knowledge is irreplaceable.

As the Baby Boomer generation steadily exits the workforce, there are too-few Generation Xers to fill the void. That leaves Millennials to fill critical positions, take on leadership roles and continue the efforts of the Baby Boomers.

One of the common complaints about Millennials in the workforce is that they don’t want to roll up their sleeves and get dirty – even if it means a steady paycheck with attractive wages, competitive benefits and a long-term career. Rather, they prefer environmentally controlled jobs at a computer or other digital device, even if that career tends to be random, short-lived and wages/benefits less predictable and reliable. Of course, half of the Millennials have reached the pivotal point in their lives where they understand the value of a good career with a reasonable financial return.

However, our employment issues are much more than just a wonky workforce. With a changing style of employees, the Millennial workforce pool has not supplied our industry with the skills, leadership and knowledge base we’re accustomed too. We’re not just struggling to find good employees, we’ve become desperate for quality employees who can move up in the ranks, steadily learning from older workers and assuming roles of significance and leadership.

Our workforce issues did not just crop up overnight. The Greatest Generation, followed by Baby Boomers and Generation X, created years of normalcy in the cycle of work. But our hopes and dreams for our children that focused on white-collar careers, combined with modern technology and new mindsets among the young, have disrupted that cycle. Years of developed skills and accumulated knowledge by Baby Boomers and Generation Xers is irreplaceable. Unfortunately, when too few are willing to accept the wisdom of that experience, our workforce issues grow more complex and acute.

There is hope for Generation Z as its values are tending to parallel Gen X. But current workforce issues are proving to be a very rough ride that will remain for many years.

In the interim, knowledge is fading in critical areas. Lynn, Kaleel and Tom have been able to depart their long-time positions with quality individuals striving to carry on their efforts. Unfortunately, all-too often that is not happening. For many companies, there is a void of succession.

There are young people who relish knowledge from those workers who came before them. I know many. But I also can see the voids at many firms and recognize what’s been lost. Modern workforce woes are not just about filling jobs, but also raise the essential question: who will drive the industry of tomorrow?

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