Written by: Dawn Nall

Water and wastewater system operators are typically required by their licensing state or regulating agency to show regular continuing education to maintain their certification. Often, certified operators are the only staff in a water or wastewater utility attending training classes. The reason for this limited training is almost always money. It takes time and money to send personnel to training, and there often isn’t enough money in the budget to send several people. However, research shows training can increase productivity and revenue. So, the money argument isn’t supportable. Why should you want to train employees?

In the day-to-day operations and management of a utility, it is possible to overlook the significant value of the utility to the surrounding community. Water and wastewater utilities are complex systems that provide life sustaining services to residents and businesses. The health and well-being of a community depend upon the water and wastewater utilities running efficiently and effectively, while remaining affordable. A training program helps a utility maintain a well-qualified workforce with the knowledge needed to operate, maintain and manage the utility’s infrastructure and supporting systems.

Regulatory compliance is necessary to insure the utility is focused on public health and safety. Training is essential to maintaining compliance, meeting customer expectations and staying up to date with developments in the industry. Technology and regulations change, sometimes quickly, requiring on-going education throughout the utility. All employees can benefit from training, although different types of training will be needed for different experience levels and positions.

It is important that training be viewed as an investment in the employees and the utility, rather than a cost or burden to the utility. Increased knowledge of how to accomplish the necessary tasks in a safe, effective, and efficient manner will benefit the utility considerably in the long-run.

Some specific benefits of a training program are discussed below.

1. Money

Investing in training can increase efficiency resulting in financial gain. A study by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) found that companies that spent on average $275 per employee per year on training earned an additional $121,000 per employee, while those that spent $900 per employee earned $168,000 per employee. Spending an additional $625 in training per employee resulted in 38% more revenue per employee or an additional $47,000 . – Reliabilityweb.com

When employees are well trained, they are able to complete their work more efficiently and effectively, leading to less money being spent on fixing mistakes. Poor performance is often the result of employees not knowing what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it. Training can resolve these performance related problems and reduce the involvement of others to correct the mistakes. This improved performance leads to many financial benefits: reduced staff turnover, lower maintenance costs, fewer customer complaints, less need for supervision, increased worker confidence and increased worker output.

2. Staying up to date

“We all know that change is a constant in life, but the changes we see in technology today aren’t just rapid—they’re exponential. If the average car had advanced as quickly as the computer over the last 35 years, cars would get 3,666,652 miles per gallon and cost less than $5,000 today! And if you were to build an iPhone using the technology available in 1991, it would set you back $3.56 million, rather than the $1,000 MSRP of the iPhone X today.” – Awecomm.com article 1/3/18

Utilities need to be able to keep up with technology changes in order to meet customer expectations, to understand best management practices, and to improve efficiencies. A well-trained work force will help a utility keep up with changing software programs, technology changes, customer service skills, leadership trends, new strategies and creativity.

3. Job satisfaction and employee retention

Training workers allows them to feel qualified, valued, and able to perform assigned tasks. The training creates a supportive workplace, encouraging employees to stay at the job because they know they will continue to grow. This leads to better morale and improves the utility’s culture overall.

Employees who feel appreciated and challenged through training opportunities may feel more satisfaction in their jobs. Employees typically don’t want to become stagnant and, after a period of time, will begin to look for opportunities to grow. Well-trained employees are easier to promote as they have continually developed their skills. Employee training increases internal talent. Hiring needs and associated costs will decrease as staff retention increases. Retaining well-trained employees reduces turnover costs such as exit interviews, administrative functions related to termination, severance pay, unemployment compensation and employee replacement costs including advertising, interviewing, testing, moving expenses, administrative expenses, etc.

4. Enhanced company image leads to better recruitment

A successful training program helps make the utility more attractive to recent graduates and mid-career changes, as well as to new recruits that are looking to improve their skills. Your utility becomes more than a place to earn a paycheck, but a place where an employee can develop skills and grow. This helps when hiring in a competitive market.

Training can come in many forms and can be offered at a variety of skill levels. Training can include:

– On-the-job learning
– Mentoring schemes
– In-house training
– Individual study
– Off-site workshops
– Time to attend webinars

When economic times get tough, training budgets are usually one of the first areas that get slashed. This is an unfortunate phenomenon considering the impact it has on an organization’s recruitment, retention and employee morale.

Does your organization offer employee training benefits?