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E-Splash November 2013 - Executive Director
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash - November 2013

 Executive Director
Laurie Dougherty

                                   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 entire group.

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 training book.

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.


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