Firms managing multiple facilities can offer opportunities for cross-training in different plants, as well as opportunities to promote employees who demonstrate managerial capacity. Photo: Dean Abramson Photography
Contract operations firm Woodard & Curran spends $60,000 to $100,000 annually on in-house training. A training and development program designed to make plant operations easier and more efficient for onsite staff reaches 100 to 125 employees annually. Photo: Woodard & Curran

Target veterans. Military veterans often combine training and field experience with a strong work ethic.


To encourage employees to build careers with the plant, consider the following retention incentives:

Tutoring services. Woodard & Curran offers tutoring in math and chemistry to entry-level hires straight from high school. The firm pays for training materials published by the Sacramento (Calif.) State University Office of Water Programs. Employees use these in supervised or unsupervised self-study programs.

Paid training/certification bonuses. Send employees to educational conferences and pay for certification exam courses. Allot self-study time and give employees time off to take exams—plus, offer paid bonuses for advancing up the certifications ladder.

In-house training. Operations and maintenance staff should be continuously trained and updated in new treatment technologies, strategies, and changes in the regulatory environment. Encourage participation with professional associations and conduct an in-house training and development program that includes:

  • Annual training needs assessments
  • Online safety training
  • At least 40 hours/year of formal training.
  • Certification and licensing
  • Leadership, management, and interpersonal skills training.
  • Whether retaining or outsourcing staffing and operations responsibilities, the above tactics can help utilities entice much-needed employees to a rapidly retiring industry.

    — Niro is senior vice president and operations and management business center manager with Woodard & Curran, Portland, Maine.

    The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the retirement of 76 million or so baby boomers to create a 2.3-million worker shortage in the next five to six years.

    Trust technology

    Automation eases the pain of a shrinking workforce.

    While no solution entirely eliminates the need for staff, instrumentation and controls such as SCADA systems can eliminate the need for 24/7 staffing.

    New instrumentation was the solution when the Ashland, Mass., Howard Street Regional Water Treatment Facility couldn't find licensed operators for its 6-mgd plant.

    “The plant needed to be staffed more than 16 hours a day to satisfy the town's demand for drinking water, which led to increased overtime costs or splitting people into different shifts,” says Plant Manager Joe Geary.

    A SCADA system was already installed at the plant, but it never worked as it should. The facility enlisted the services of a contract operation firm, which brought its in-house SCADA group to the project, fixed existing issues, and upgraded the system to work properly.

    The repairs and upgrades cost approximately $30,000. This is coupled with an ongoing SCADA maintenance contract to ensure proper operability. The system did not change the process; rather, it enabled the facility to operate effectively unstaffed for greater periods of time.

    The facility is now fully staffed with three full-time employees who have improved water quality and the overall performance of the treatment system, and made modifications and updates to the facility's SCADA system. This has permitted remote operations of the facility and a reduced work schedule.