| BAYWORK: Regional recruitment program
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BAYWORK: Regional recruitment program

Collaboration or competition – which produces more? More than two dozen utilities in northern California say it’s the former, and they jointly develop brochures and posters, put on training seminars, and host career fairs in an effort to find qualified job candidates for all of them.

They create tools that none could afford to create alone.

And even though BAYWORK formed eight years ago -- as a test through AWWA -- the utilities say their commitment is to the sector at large. They share their products and programs with systems outside their network. Nearly 17,000 people visited their website in the last fiscal year alone.

“We want this to be used by everyone, everywhere,” said Cheryl Davis, previous chair of BAYWORK and one its founders. “We’ve had visitors to our website from Brazil and India. This is for utilities, by utilities. People in the water industry want water to be good - we’re not in it to make a million dollars. This is a regional collaboration, but in our hearts, it’s not only regional.”

It’s no secret the sector is experiencing a long-anticipated wave of Baby Boomer retirements and that many utilities struggle to develop programs and practices to address the vacuum.

BAYWORK focuses on both staff development and recruitment for mission-critical jobs – engineer, electrician, instrument technician, wastewater operator, water treatment operator, water distribution operator and wastewater collections, said BAYWORK’s chair, Ingrid Bella, who is also senior management analyst at the Santa Clara Valley Water District. 

Examples of the programs, products and resources developed by the utilities and listed on the BAYWORK website include:

* Externships and Workshops on Wheels for teachers and counselors to learn more about water sector jobs, as well as technical training for current employees
* Training Buffet in which utility employees choose technical and leadership workshops to attend, and receive contact hours
* A Vocational Training Map and Job and Internship Posting Boards 
* A Contextualized Learning Program in which subject matter experts and teachers collaborate to develop curriculums, as well as videos depicting well-paid workers using skills taught in the curriculum 
* A Knowledge Transfer Toolkit, an online interactive publication which provides links to PowerPoints, videos and resources on all information BAYWORK has culled on each topic

“There’s no one agency that can do all this by themselves,” said Davis, a consultant who worked at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for 32 years.

Davis said staff development and preparedness are just as important to the sector’s sustainability as recruitment. It’s annoying, she said, when managers say their most valuable asset is the knowledge of the staff.

“I think, ‘Do you own that person?’ If that asset can retire tomorrow, you have no asset,” Davis said.  “That asset can leave at any time.”

BAYWORK was created in 2009 with four signatory agencies – SFPUC, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, and Union Sanitary District.

“We now have over 30 agencies as signatories, which is where our budget comes from to work on our initiatives,” said Catherine Curtis, workforce reliability manager at the SFPUC, who frequently contributes to BAYWORK projects. Most members are water and wastewater utilities, although AWWA’s Cal-Nevada Section also belongs, as well as the Bay Area Community College Consortium and the California Water Environment Association.

In addition to collaborating to recruit and train candidates, each signatory utility pays a fee for program development ranging from $765 for small utilities, to $6,105 for mid-size, and up to $13,750 for large utilities. Some of the utilities also donate employee time to developing programs, which BAYWORK staff says is the consortium’s biggest asset.  

Some of the BAYWORK programs and activities are available only to consortium members, but most are accessible to anyone who’s interested.

So why would utilities pay to belong to BAYWORK if they can get the materials for free?

“We’ve been able to show there is a value in having member utilities have a say as to what programs and projects we develop,” Bella said. “It’s not just what’s on our website. It’s having things developed. We’ve had workshops on asset management because that’s what they wanted, and the Training Buffet, where we give them contact hours.

“We’ve been able to make the business case for that investment.”

And there’s the competition factor for jobs, especially with smaller utility signatories that historically lose well-trained employees to larger utilities. 

“That risk was going to be there whether BAYWORK existed or not,” Bella said. “Now at least we are all working on things that can benefit all of us.”

Bella said the consortium is trying to gauge its results.

“We have a lot of anecdotal reasons why we think this is working,” Bella said. “At Santa Clara Valley Water, we ask job candidates, ‘How did you hear about the job?’ We will ask signatories, ‘How many people did you have apply that mentioned BAYWORK as part of their recruitment?’

“We have to wait for the harvest, which is not always immediate.”


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