From an emergency preparedness perspective, the role of water utility plant managers is rapidly changing due to various technological advancements, an impending lack of skilled workers due to looming retirements, and an increasingly transient workforce at the local government level which hinders the process of building lasting relationships. The net effect of all of this is that water plant managers are becoming increasingly ill equipped to handle emergencies.
I would not say the situation is dire, but it is getting there. Would inexperienced plant managers know what to do if a terrorist poisons the water? It is difficult to say, but I can only assume that personnel with decades of experience would be better equipped to deal with this scenario. Luckily, there are some things water utilities can do to help mitigate these possibilities.
Preparing Water Utility Plant Managers for the New Normal
This ‘new normal’ changes the characteristics that make a successful water plant manager, and requires a shift in how they are viewed and trained. First, plant managers need training that is more multi-functional – they need to be trained on things like advanced technology, emerging communication strategies, and budgeting. Second, water utilities must increase their focus on employee retention, which at the most obvious level involves an increase in pay – the last thing any water utility decision-maker needs is a defection of talent due to a perception of being underpaid. Finally, water utilities need to increase their investment in technology that helps make plant managers’ lives easier.
Simply put, water companies need to adapt to a rapidly evolving environment, and this must start at the plant level. With an increased focus on training and retaining water utility plant managers, as well as providing better technology to make their jobs easier, water companies can help mitigate the challenges of the evolving industry which in turn will allow them to be better equipped to handle emergencies going forward.