Managing the coming brain drain

Posted January 2006

By Myron Olstein

Within the next 10 years, 35 percent of current utility employees will be eligible for retirement. Most of these retirees are senior employees, with many years experience and a wealth of institutional and operational knowledge. Concerned about this brain drain, the AWWA Research Foundation and the Water Environment Research Foundation co-funded a study titled Succession Planning for a Vital Workforce in the Information Age.

As reported in Managing the coming brain drain in the June 2005 edition of the AWWA Journal, the study analyzed demographic data from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. These data indicate that the U.S. workforce is becoming older and more diverse and that the number of available workers is declining (the same trends are unfolding in Canada). Within the utility sectors, water and wastewater facilities will need even more workers at a time when replacement personnel (particularly engineers) will be in increasingly short supply.

One conclusion of the succession planning study was that every utility should implement workforce planning to properly manage transition. A 12-step workforce-planning model was developed specifically for utilities and their specific labor needs. The study also underlined the importance of knowledge capture to ensure that tacit (i.e., undocumented) knowledge is not lost during this period of employee changeover.

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