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President's Message (C Factor)

Workforce Sustainability: Now and for the Future
By Mike Darrow
Posted on 6/5/2019 3:57 PM
I’m glad to be here communicating again with you. Well, another successful conference is over. I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Water Resources Conference (FWRC) in Tampa that was held in April. I personally like to learn what’s up in our industry and network with folks who attend this fine conference. It’s always a good overview of our profession. It was sure good to talk with many of you who were there and find out what’s on your mind. 

As always, there were many things going on at the conference. My congratulations go to the award winners who were announced at the two lunches. I enjoyed watching the Operations Challenge competition—those folks can sure cut some pipe and install a lateral connection fast! I attended several of the fine technical sessions and workshops and learned what other utilities and companies are doing to meet their challenges. I visited many vendor booths and saw new technology first hand in the exhibit hall. I also attended the FWPCOA Operator Showcase, led by Tom King and Scott Anaheim. We discussed the topics of emergency responder status, water reuse and future operator licensing, long-term sustainably, and developing the youth in our profession. These are all very good topics for our operators association to be acting on. 

Sustainability in Our Workforce

Sustainability is a challenge for us all. I have talked with many operators, mechanics, coordinators, and maintenance technicians out there and one thing is clear to me: A wealth of knowledge and experience is leaving our utilities as these folks retire and leave the workforce. I have met many good young people in our industry who are working and learning to be their best, and wanting to achieve a good career; however, I feel that many more of them are needed for the future if we hope to sustain (and exceed) the level or service our customers expect.


We talk a lot about the young professionals (YPs) in the industry, but we need more professional development for young operators (YOs), including those folks out of high school, technical school, or college programs who are needed to replace us—right now and in the future. 

Today, water distribution and collection system operators, advanced certified treatment operators, instrumentation and control (I&C) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technicians, lift station electricians, pump mechanics, and utility managers are in high demand and are needed across the state. These are all skilled craft positions needing experience and training to match the knowledge and experience of some of the old operators (OOs!) I know. 

For a long time, development in these professions has been done with in-house programs and by using associations like FWPCOA to help in the mission.  Now we must take it a bit further and all work together for this new challenge of developing a sustainable program of replacing ourselves in our skilled craft.

Mentoring for the Future

More mentorship programs in our profession are needed. We must mentor our new professionals looking for training, experience, advancement, and increased responsibilities. Mentorship and leading the next generation to work in our profession is greatly needed to replace ourselves and our experience level. When I started my career (and actually, throughout my career), I met many folks who helped me out technically and professionally. This is done by teaching the skills, experiences, practices, ideas, and consistent work ethic that are needed to do the job more efficiently and effectively. Giving new people exposure to the many disciplines and practices in the industry is crucial.


The FWPCOA is built on this principle. Many seasoned professionals are actively training the next generation, but much more is needed. I’m proud to be a small part of that. We are involved in this core fundamental of replacing ourselves at FWPCOA. Experience is taught in our courses—both onsite and online—to new operators by current professionals who actually are preforming the work.

Recruiting the youth of Florida to an operator, technical, or mechanical job has it complications. Competing with the IT game and YouTube-type professions is difficult. The outdoor hands-on work we do is beyond the concepts of many young people. For the new folks to get into this profession, outreach and an interesting technical curriculum are needed for middle- and high-school students to learn about our industry. It’s incredible to realize that many kids have no idea that this industry exists!

We need to show how science, engineering, environmental issues, biology, physics, public heath, and mechanical skills are blended together to form the operators, coordinators, and technicians of the future. We must partner with high schools and technical schools to help them set up their programs, and partner with the students as they learn about our trade and get actual experience working in the field. Utilities must also look to opening trainee and or apprenticeship positions in all of these areas to fill the needs for the future.

I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at FWRC for workforce apprenticeships and I learned a lot from the discussion. At the workshop were utility employees from around the state, and representatives from the University of Florida Training, Research, and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO Center), FSAWWA, and FWPCOA, discussing how they present these issues to their students and workers and how this workforce development and sustainability could move forward. As I see it, this is the beginning of a joint partnership for the progression of this important issue. Your help is needed for us to move forward, so get involved when and where to can. 

Emergency Responder Status

Under its Publicity Committee, FWPCOA is working on emergency responder status recognition for our working professionals. We respond in emergencies and keep the water flowing in all directions and where it’s supposed to go. Protecting public health and welfare by providing safe drinking water, collecting and treating wastewater to protect Florida’s environment, and preventing sanitary sewer overflow is as important as the work that our brave police officers and firefighters do. Like them, we’re required to stay on duty and work overtime under dangerous conditions as repair the systems until water and wastewater are back to normal operation. We train for natural and man-made disasters and we have emergency response plans that are required by law.

Many of you worked long and hard during our recent storm events, as you’ve done in many years past. We’re looking for this recognition now, which I believe will help us recruit young people to our industry and advance our profession. 

The FWPCOA is looking for support from you on its quest for emergency responder status for water and wastewater utility workers. Our Publicity Committee is working with representatives in Tallahassee to help get this going. By working with Florida’s legislators, we can get this recognition. If you have a story of an emergency response situation (that either you or another worker or a team experienced), we would love to hear from you. Please send any letters of support or examples of response situations to me at president@fwpcoa.org, or to Phil Donovan, our Publicity Committee chair, at publicity@fwpcoa.org

Remember to keep mentoring each other—and go with the flow!