Water and wastewater systems are marvels of engineering that require highly skilled operators, but they are also business-like entities that require another set of workers to succeed, typically toiling quietly in the background—administrative professionals.
Administrative professionals provide a bevy of vital services to water and wastewater utilities, including:
Managing water and wastewater service functions,
Complying with regulatory agencies,
Supporting and educating their governing body members,
Communicating with community stakeholders, and
Facilitating capital improvement projects.
Their day-to-day responsibilities include a diverse set of tasks such as developing budgets, tracking finances, generating utility bills, managing payroll, maintaining records, paying bills, developing policies and procedures, managing human resources, administering customer service, purchasing needed supplies, overseeing project schedules, submitting required reports, responding to non-compliance notices, supporting governing body meetings, performing customer outreach, and staying up-to-date on funding opportunities. The good work of utilities would grind to a halt without these dedicated employees.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, RCAP surveyed small communities across the country and found that 43% of respondents had only one full-time operator on staff, only a part-time operator on staff, or relied on contractors solely for operations. Recently, RCAP surveyed over 500 communities across the country and found that many also rely on a single person to perform all the utility’s administrative functions. This is especially true for the smallest communities.
There can be high turnover in administrative positions. RCAP’s survey revealed that more than a quarter of utility administrative professionals had been on the job less than two years.
The work of these administrative professionals directly impacts the utility’s ability to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and to ensure the financial sustainability of the system. But administrative professionals are often overlooked, overworked, underpaid, and under-trained, especially in small communities.
RCAP believes that one of the most effective ways to enhance utility capacity development is to invest in leadership and management training for water and wastewater administrative professionals who currently have few professional development opportunities tailored specifically for their needs and no opportunity to earn a credential such as a certificate specific to the water sector.
RCAP’s long-term goal is to address these two shortcomings by creating and offering the country’s first certificate program in management and leadership for water and wastewater administrative professionals. With generous funding from EPA’s new Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program and in partnership with its regional partners, the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and Water Finance Assistance, RCAP began that process this year by creating a “job-task analysis,” which identifies and documents the specific tasks, knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a particular job or occupation effectively. This job-task analysis will serve as the basis for the next two steps in the program creation—developing a training curriculum for water and wastewater administrative professionals and creating the certificate exam itself. Administrative professionals would attend the training course and then sit for the certificate exam at its conclusion.
There are far more administrative professionals in small communities across the country doing whatever they can to keep their utilities and their communities functioning than we likely realize. RCAP’s field staff work with these dedicated employees every day. The goal of RCAP’s new program is to create more administrative professional leaders who can help their water and wastewater utilities thrive.