Everyone’s wondering who’s going to replace the hordes of baby boomers exiting key leadership positions at public agencies nationwide. They represent a huge chunk of the workforce overseeing the assets and services that ensure quality of life. Who’s going to tend the store when they’re gone?

A large crowd gathered for the American Public Works Association’s Emerging Leaders Academy presentation. ELA Class IX, the Niners, assembled a free toolbox for retaining new talent: go.hw.net/emergetoolbox.
A large crowd gathered for the American Public Works Association’s Emerging Leaders Academy presentation. ELA Class IX, the Niners, assembled a free toolbox for retaining new talent: go.hw.net/emergetoolbox.

I wondered, too, until the American Public Works Association’s 102nd annual convention last month. It always features career and personal development programming, but I sensed a new excitement this year. One session in particular, “Preparing the Next Generation of Public Works,” assured me that our communities are in excellent hands.

The profession’s future leaders don’t think being visible is a liability. They want to feel valued, that their work has meaning. So they don’t feel guilty celebrating their successes, like when a project’s finished early and/or under budget. They don’t duck and cover.

They don’t fear the transparency that smartphones bring and have much more control over technology’s capabilities. To them, it’s an opportunity to show taxpayers and governing bodies how their day-to-day work improves the community as a whole.

As I sat there in the standing-room-only session, it hit me: These two traits enable them to be proactive, not reactive. They can get ahead of issues and, when a problem arises, respond much more quickly.

They’re coming on board at the perfect time. Many of their customers are their peers, who want to be more involved in decision-making regarding public assets and services. As the session’s tagline shows, the profession’s future leaders not only know this, but welcome it: “Equipping leaders with tools to engage staff and harness the power of the community.”

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

It’s time for a new way of serving the public.

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