Build Your Utility’s Brand Recognition

To weather the looming retirement storm and compete for new employees, utilities must boost their brands and become employers of choice.
Build Your Utility’s Brand Recognition

There are going to be a lot of retirement parties held at water and sewer utilities in the coming years as a tidal wave of baby boomers — the so-called Silver Tsunami — trade in their work boots for golf shoes.

How many employees will retire is open to debate. But a joint study of 30 water and wastewater utilities, performed in 2014 by the Water Research Foundation and the Water Environment Research Foundation, found that nearly one-third of employees are eligible for retirement during the next 10 years. The study’s inescapable conclusion: Water utilities will face unprecedented workforce replacement needs from now through 2024.

As such, it’s safe to assume that along with eating a lot of sheet cakes and handing out a slew of gold watches, utility managers will also be interviewing a lot of job candidates. Which raises a thought-provoking question: In an era where competition for the best and brightest engineers, plant operators and other utility-related employees will be fierce, thanks to a shrinking labor pool and other factors, how will your utility stack up? Or as they say in the job-recruitment vernacular, will your utility be viewed as an employer of choice? Or one to avoid? If it’s the latter, trouble looms, says Jody Ordioni, the founder of brand-marketing agency Brandemix ( and an employer-branding and recruitment-marketing expert.

“What’s happening right now is we’re looking at nearly full employment, so everybody is vying for good people to work for them,” she explains. “So no matter who you are … you’re really considered behind the eight ball if you can’t differentiate from the opportunities that exist at every other organization looking to hire the same
people you are.”

What exactly is an employer of choice? It may be difficult to quantify, she notes. But if your utility is progressive, socially responsible and provides things such as a stable work environment, career advancement, employee-recognition programs, management training and a great work-life balance and/or culture, then congratulations on being a member of the exclusive Employer of Choice Club.

“It’s all about that prestige factor,” Ordioni says. “You want to develop a FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality where prospective employees are jealous of the people who work at your organization.”

To determine if your utility is an employer of choice, honestly assess some simple metrics.

For example, look at how long it takes to fill open positions, the number of applications submitted for job openings, the rate of employee turnover, how easy it is to recruit people from competing organizations and the percentage of recruits that actually accept positions when offered. Moreover, if your company has an employee job-referral program, gauge its success. It’s probably a given that everyone thinks they’re an employer of choice, but these metrics will reveal the unvarnished truth of the matter, she says.

“It’s not important what you think about your organization, but what the external marketplace thinks,” Ordioni points out. “We call it talent branding. On websites such as Glassdoor (, it’s very easy to find out what people are saying — what the CEO or job-interview process is like. It’s all very transparent.” Management can also search social media platforms to find out what people are saying about their organizations.

In addition, utilities can conduct internal employee surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews to get a sense of how people feel about their culture, advancement opportunities, work-life balance and so forth. To take it even a step further, Ordioni suggests interviewing or surveying more finite groups, such as employees who just joined the utility (to see why they did) or high-potential employees. Or even offer incentives to get people who turned down jobs to explain their reasons for doing so, she adds.

“Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone else do the research because of internal biases,” Ordioni points out. “An objective outsider might be able to better determine the low-hanging fruit, or help organizations articulate or build a talent-brand architecture — identify the things that do make your brand and opportunities different and sexy that people might not be aware of.

“Sometimes it’s there, but the people who work there just aren’t aware of it. Other times it’s not.”

If research reveals that your utility isn’t a preferred employer, some self-reflection is in order. You must determine the kind of employees you want, then figure out what those ideal candidates want. “What are your organization’s pain points — the things that keep it from becoming an employer of choice?” Ordioni says. “If you’ve never had to consider that before, guess what — times have changed.” You must also consider exactly what you’re prepared to do to attract and retain those highly sought-after star recruits.

Doing the research and developing a plan of action may not be as time-consuming as one might expect. Ordioni says that if an organization dedicates someone or a team to the task, a plan could be developed in four months or so.

In addition, once a plan is in place, don’t overlook the fact that you already possess a valuable resource for getting out the word about the benefits/advantages offered by your organization: your own workforce. “You already have this incredible internal resource of people who can understand and hear your message — and they already believe in it,” she notes. “Turn them into brand ambassadors to help get out the message.”


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