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Succession Planning in the Wastewater Industry

While succession planning is a common topic in the industry, not very many people outside of it know that it’s a problem. We often hear about global warming, dwindling resources, and corporate ownership, but succession planning isn’t as hot a media topic.

But we need to talk about succession planning. When long-term employees retire and leave the industry, they’re taking knowledge, problem-solving skills, and their experience with them. We’re at an unsustainable point of the employee lifecycle.

Succession Planning

Turnover is a big problem facing our industry. Highly skilled field workers, who have been working in the industry for more than 40 years, are retiring, and leaving less-experienced trainees or new hires to keep up with aging systems.

In decades past, as Ontario’s current facilities were being built, procedures were not thoroughly documented in manuals. It’s a practice that has only started in the last few years, with the advent of cheap technology and digital storage.

Cordell Samuels, former President of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), thinks that a lot of the information regarding the system sits in people’s heads. “…And when [employees] leave, they take it with them.”

Knowledge transference is key to sustaining high-quality, safe service. Not just intra-organization, but across municipalities and systems, too.

How do you connect siloed systems?

It’s hard for many wastewater professionals to access information outside of their own municipalities and systems. It’s another matter entirely when looking for innovative and new design. Many of our water and wastewater systems are aging, with much-needed infrastructure construction or outdated methodology. And operators’ current knowledge isn’t enough to sustain our systems long-term.

Our first step, seemingly simple enough, is connecting the professionals themselves. The WEAO creates spaces for networking and knowledge transfer so that professionals don’t feel as siloed. We firmly believe that a tight-knit industry means that information is shared when and where it needs to be. And we need to continue to foster a knowledge-sharing environment that supports our students, young professionals, and experienced industry vets.

Standardization of training protocols is key for succession planning and for efficient training of new entrants. We need to ensure that information is stored outside of employee’s heads and in accessible locations.

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A man standing in front of a water treatment facility operation

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