Workforce Crisis: Intern Program Steers Students Into Utility Careers

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

One of the best ways to minimize the effects of a shortage of qualified workers is to plan ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in our ongoing series examining the skilled workforce shortage in many areas of the underground construction and rehabilitation industry.

The city of Akron Public Utilities Bureau (APUB) has 320 dedicated employees serving nearly 330,000 people throughout their 110 square mile service area containing approximately 92,000 residential accounts and 2,500 commercial/industrial accounts.

Two years ago, the bureau analyzed its workforce and identified that 40 percent of its employees either were already eligible for retirement or would be within the next five years. Knowing this data and anticipating future employment needs provided an opportunity to hire new workers over a period of time, rather than facing multiple vacancies.

Ongoing succession planning is a critical process, wrote Michael L. McGlinchy, P.E., public utilities bureau manager, in his preface letter for the bureau's 2006 annual report.

The same year, APUB initiated a utilities intern program with the Akron Public School System with the goal of attracting high school seniors to enable them to gain work experience and become permanent city employees after graduation. Under the program, students take appropriate vocational education courses for four hours a day and work at various entry level jobs for the utility bureau for an additional four hours each work day.

The program is structured so that the experience gained will help to qualify interns for the opportunity to fill entry level positions in the operating divisions of the Public Utilities Bureau and help qualify them for certification through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

Entry level positions do not require operator certification, but career advancement depends on having OEPA operator certification.

Ohio requirements

In Ohio, there are four levels of certification for water and wastewater plant operators and two levels for water distribution and sewer maintenance operators. Each level requires a minimum amount of experience, and intern time counts toward minimum experience necessary for a Class 1 license. Additional training is provided to assist employees in obtaining necessary levels of certification.