Build a Better Staff

Outside training opportunities can give your team an advantage in the field.

You can be a great manager. You can have excellent equipment. You can be proactive and progressive in your approach to system maintenance and improvements. But how do you make sure your staff is capable of carrying out your utility’s mission in the field?

I remember my first day working as a mason tender. I’d taken a semester off from college. When my summer job ended, I went to work for a local masonry company. We mostly built basements and poured concrete. My job was relatively simple — mix mud, stack blocks, and puddle concrete. But I’d never done any of it before, and while it was relatively simple, the difference between good and bad tenders was significant.

The masons mostly just expected me to know everything and to do it right — and fast — as soon as I got out of the truck that first day. It’s not the most complicated job, but there are nuances. If you’ve never mixed mud, you’re not going to know the right consistency. If you’ve never steered a wheelbarrow of concrete down a 2-by-8-inch plank into a sandy pit to pour footings, you might struggle the first time or two. I dumped one wheelbarrow, once. The hell I caught for it ensured it would never happen again, no matter how deep the pit, narrow the plank, or heavy the load.

I was thrown straight into the mix and was expected to keep up. But I was surrounded by experienced masons who could keep me from doing too much wrong, and as I said, it wasn’t a very complicated job. Running water and wastewater systems is a little different.

Training across utility departments is far from standardized. There aren’t apprenticeships. There aren’t degrees in sewer cleaning. There are, obviously, operator certification courses, but those don’t teach you the ins and outs of running a jet/vac truck or the subtleties of running a camera and coding defects. So what do you do? How do you ensure the people you’re sending out to handle calls have the knowledge and skills to properly serve customers and represent your utility? There’s no standard answer, but there are some options.

This month’s Tech Talk takes a look at Nezat Training and Consulting, one of those options for giving your team a higher level of training. It’s a good example of how you can help your crews expand their knowledge base and skill set and ultimately be more productive and efficient.

I was just a grunt in the masonry world, like a third-line grinder on a hockey team that makes up for lesser ability with relentless hard work. It’s good to have a few people like that on your team, but you also need to take the time to develop a culture where learning and developing stronger skills is the norm. That’s good for everyone, from new hires to the superintendent and the taxpayers.

Regardless of how you train new employees or help your experienced operators stay up to date with new technology, there’s always room for improvement. The more opportunities they’re given to learn and grow, the more valuable they’ll be.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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