A Day in the Life . . .
Recently I had the opportunity to do a "ride-a-long"
with a great group of water professionals from the City of Batavia for their
typical morning routine. It was a great experience, and I'd like to
share a few thoughts from my adventure. I'm sure many of you that work in
utility departments can relate to this.
Use of computers- I was at first surprised that the utility
department field crew employees pretty much shared one common computer. They
log on every few days or so to check their work email. Any important
issues are shared in a group meeting that occurs weekly or the early morning
chats in their group office prior to going out to the field. Some have
computers at home and some would prefer to never see a computer.
Age of workers- In this department the youngest worker was 40
years old. Many of them are looking forward to retirement. Some
plans of when to retire will be based on the retirement of their supervisor.
If their supervisor retires and an equally effective replacement is in
place, they may retire later. If the person in charge is someone they
don't choose to work for, they will retire sooner.
Supervisor- In this particular group, the supervisor is like the
coach. All of the players look up to him for guidance and information.
If their supervisor hasn't told them, it must not be important; otherwise
he would share that information. I watched the supervisor in action, he
is soft spoken and shares details of projects and asks for input from the
Customer service- This is where I was totally blown away.
The guys in the field work together so well. Example: Someone in
the department has a homeowner appointment at6 p.m. for a meter change-out.
The employees who work during the day shift will do the "prep"
work for this change-out so that the employee doing the change-out has fewer unforeseen problems,
and the homeowner is not inconvenienced any more than necessary. I always
thought that water departments were like other utilities. You call for an
appointment and they would say, "Our hours are from 7:30 to 3:30 p.m., and
we can service you anytime during those hours." No way in this
utility! They had 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and midnight appointments for
homeowners and contractors. It was 100% customer driven scheduling.
Toughest part of the job- When I asked what the toughest part of
the job was, the answer was: "The physically demanding work that occurs
during an emergency repair. We are not doing this type of physical work
every day so, when you come across that repair that has you twisting wrenches
and climbing up and down and using muscles that have been dormant, you
feel it the next day".
How did you get hired? - Many of the people get hired through working in
the street department. They become familiar with the city and the
operations and then move into the water department. Some are hired after
working a summer program out of high school.
What are your concerns?- The primary concern of a water operator
who is new to the industry is being able to advance their career. They
cannot take the test for a higher level license without the necessary work
experience prior to testing. They cannot get the work experience without
having passed the test. The older workers are grandfathered in with the
current licenses, even if they are working at a lower level plant.
Hopefully, IEPA is addressing this issue through an "Operator in
Training" type of testing agreement.
What new things did I learn?- One of the employees asked me if we
were the association that gave out raffle tickets for asking
good questions. I said, no but we could be now! I learned
that our primary communication channel for important information needs to be with
the supervisors. We still need to communicate to the operators, but the
supervisors are the channel for timely and important information. I
learned that the paper copy of the training book is still very important.
As many items were stacked around the office, the one on top was our
I look forward to the next "ride-a-long" and will be sharing the
opportunity for this experience with our staff at the Illinois Section AWWA.
It was an enjoyable, eye-opening experience for me. I thank my
hosts at the City of Batavia for their generous time and for sharing.