How To Plug The 'Brain Drain'
By Sara Jerome
The water sector is bracing for a loss of knowledge and expertise when the baby boomers retire.
They “will leave behind not only empty spaces but gaps in critical technical and facility-specific or ‘institutional’ knowledge,” according to Utility Executive.
What can be done about the problem of so-called "brain drain"?
There are ways to address "brain drain" now, according to a paper titled "A Strategic Assessment of the Future of Water Utilities" published by the AWWA Research Foundation.
Water utilities should seek to make their environment an attractive place to work for the next generation of talent. They should provide workforce flexibility, conduct more training programs, and develop apprenticeship programs, the paper says.
Mentoring is an important strategy for plugging the "brain drain," according to Larry Jaworski, a past president of the Water Environment Foundation.
"What has happened in the past is that experienced people did not have an opportunity to work closely with succeeding staff, so there wasn't an opportunity to share that kind of knowledge," he told Utility Executive.
Some services, such as programs by American Water College, seek to partner with utilities to implement training programs.
Experts agree that planning ahead can help avert a crisis.
"Carry out an assessment of your system’s current situation as it relates to pending retirements, turnover, and retention. Analyze what is going on in those areas. Determine your upcoming vacancies. Plan ahead for these openings to occur," suggested a paper by Douglas Brookhart presented at WEFTEC.
Utilities should also increase recruiting and maintain connections with retiring talent, according to the paper.
"Seventy percent of those planning to retire want to work part-time. Retirees are already trained; they cost less in benefits and can be used on special projects easily. Orientation and understanding the core responsibilities are not issues with a recent retiree," the paper said.
"Brain drain" is a problem that goes far beyond the water sector.
"The `brain drain' is affecting every industry, not just the utility industry but I think that utilities are going to be among the hardest hit. And it's happening not just in engineering but in finance, accounting, and career fields across the board," Michael Ruane, recruiting manager with Key Technical Solutions, told EnergyBiz.
Shifting more responsibilities to technology, including mobile, is another way to plug "brain drain," some observers say.