October 2008, Vol. 20, No.10

Succession Planning

Interns: One Way To Succeed With Recruitment Goals

How Goodyear, Ariz., used an intern program to attract new water and wastewater employees

Charles McDowell

Goodyear, Ariz., sits about 20 mi (32 km) west of Phoenix and, like most other West Valley communities, is transitioning quickly from a rural agricultural base to a vibrant urban area.

Goodyear experienced an average annual growth rate of 16% from 2000 through 2006. The recent housing downturn has slowed growth to a more reasonable rate of 5% to 7 % during the past 18 months, but commercial and retail growth is still strong. Between 2004 and 2008, Goodyear’s population increased from 36,000 to 58,000.

This rapid growth has required significant upgrades and expansion to water production and distribution facilities, as well as to wastewater collection and reclamation assets. Utility staffing has increased from 28 approved positions in 2004 to 56 approved positions in 2008. Overall, city staffing increased from 180 to more than 500 positions in the same time period.

Recruiting, training, and retaining qualified staff in this dynamic growth climate is a significant challenge. The rapid growth, combined with a highly competitive utility demand for certified operations and maintenance personnel, required Goodyear to seek alternatives to traditional recruitment methods. One of the alternatives is the city’s intern program, which recruits potential water and wastewater staff.

Bring in the Interns
Recruiting, hiring, training, and managing 28 new employees in a 4-year period required significant resources. Of the 28 new employees, approximately 75% were operations personnel — critical staff in the successful operation of any utility. The remaining 25% were administrative or other positions that require no certification or specific technical experience.

As recruitment efforts hit full stride, we realized we were seeking an endangered species — experienced, certified operations staff who were willing to change employers or relocate. We faced a limited pool of candidates who were in demand across Arizona and beyond. Most applicants failed to meet minimal certification standards or had no utility experience. The few applicants who possessed the desired certification and experience already had positions and wanted starting wages that were at or greater than the midpoint of our pay scale. When their current employers became aware that they might lose staff, they quickly made counteroffers to keep their certified operators.

A few qualified candidates were hired, but several openings for utility technicians at levels I and II, as well as for senior utility technicians, remained unfilled for more than a year. Reality forced us to reassess our recruitment methods and lower our expectations relative to experience and certification for the entry-level positions.

We used three strategies to address these staffing challenges:
• Develop an intern program to expose potential employees to career opportunities in the utility industry.
• Hire for attitude; train for skills.
• Provide a means for entry-level employees to advance more rapidly.

The sidebar (below) lists the basic requirements and conditions of the intern program.

Hire for Attitude; Train for Skills
The guiding principle that drove the selection process was basic: Hire for attitude; train for skills. Once selected, individuals were observed and evaluated for initiative, learning potential, maturity, dependability, common sense, and ability to get along with people.

The implementation of the intern program focused on several key points:
• Interns work with an experienced operator.
• Interns receive training in safety, operations, process control, and laboratory practices.
• Interns are eligible for certification classes at the city’s expense.
• Interns are eligible to sit for Grade I certification exams in any (or all) disciplines (wastewater collection, wastewater treatment, water production, and water distribution) at the city’s expense.
• Interns can apply for a utility technician I opening and acquire minimal required certification and a commercial driver’s license within 6 months.

As each intern rotated among the operational divisions, feedback was solicited from staff. At the end of each 3-month rotation, division supervisors compared notes and impressions of the intern’s strengths and weaknesses.

The intern program has been successful in filling entry-level (utility technician I) positions. We have hired a total of seven interns since December 2006. One resigned, one left to attend college, and five were hired as regular, full-time utility technicians (Level I) within their first year as interns.

The next step of the recruitment and retention process is to develop the skills of the new hires and provide them opportunities for advancement. Informal discussions with staff revealed that the inability to advance was a significant factor in decisions to move to another utility.

In 2007, the city developed and implemented a criteria-based promotion program. This program established what skills an employee must master to be promoted. When an employee demonstrates proficiency and acquires the required certifications and licenses, he or she is promoted from utility technician I to utility technician II.

The intern program is not the solution to recruitment of advanced operations positions, but it has enabled us to fill entry-level positions with individuals who are trainable and possess the attitude to succeed in our culture. Eighty-six percent of the interns have been successful.

We are now developing a mentoring program designed by staff and aimed at providing the tools for staff to prepare for promotional opportunities to the utility technician II, senior utility technician, and division supervisor positions. For example, a utility technician II or senior utility technician will sit in on design and constructability reviews to observe what occurs in such forums. The supervisor will have the opportunity to shadow the deputy director and sit in on policy discussions or meetings with other department directors. We believe that this proactive approach to staff development will provide job enrichment, boost internal advancement opportunities, and enhance our ability to retain staff we have invested in.

Charles McDowell is deputy director of water resources for the City of Goodyear, Ariz.

Charles McDowell is deputy director of water resources for the City of Goodyear, Ariz.

Intern Program Basics The intern program implemented in 2006 by the City of Goodyear, Ariz., was based on the following criteria: • A high school diploma or equivalent was required. • No water or wastewater certifications were required. • No water or wastewater experience was required. • Salaries would be 5% below the starting hourly wage for an entry-level utility technician I. • The position would be full time (40 hours per week) but offer no benefits or overtime. • Each intern would rotate through wastewater collections and treatment and water production and distribution every 3 months. Intern Program Basics The intern program implemented in 2006 by the City of Goodyear, Ariz., was based on the following criteria: • A high school diploma or equivalent was required. • No water or wastewater certifications were required. • No water or wastewater experience was required. • Salaries would be 5% below the starting hourly wage for an entry-level utility technician I. • The position would be full time (40 hours per week) but offer no benefits or overtime. • Each intern would rotate through wastewater collections and treatment and water production and distribution every 3 months. Intern Program Basics The intern program implemented in 2006 by the City of Goodyear, Ariz., was based on the following criteria: • A high school diploma or equivalent was required. • No water or wastewater certifications were required. • No water or wastewater experience was required. • Salaries would be 5% below the starting hourly wage for an entry-level utility technician I. • The position would be full time (40 hours per week) but offer no benefits or overtime. • Each intern would rotate through wastewater collections and treatment and water production and distribution every 3 months.