Almost 3 million American water workers must be replaced in the next decade due to retirements and job changes, according to a 2018 Brookings Institution report.
The way those vacancies get filled matters. Brookings found that nearly 85 percent of water workers are male and two-thirds white, which means employers are failing to hire people who represent the communities they serve. That’s particularly important as the demographics of our communities continue to change—the State Demography Office estimates that nearly 46 percent of Coloradans will belong to a non-white race by 2050.
Diversity needs to be factored into recruitment to avoid regurgitating the same ideas, says Geoff DeMoss, HR supervisor for the City of Aurora. “If you bring in individuals who have other experiences, that enables you to look at the broader picture. It opens opportunities to allow more voices to be heard.”
Here are ideas from Colorado water organizations to bolster inclusive recruitment and retain workers.
Make meaningful community connections.
- Determine where you need to improve your hiring and reach out to community groups, professional organizations, schools and other entities with that common thread. Share efforts big and small, from partnering on new programs to speaking at a meeting.
- Check out industry resources such as workforwater.org and the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education’s resources for careers and diversity at caee.org.
Tap into internal expertise.
- Ask employees what inspires them, and incorporate those values in job postings. Find out if managers have ideas to improve hiring practices.
- Establish an employee diversity committee.
Break down barriers for nontraditional workers.
- State officials made it easier for active-duty military members and veterans to apply credit for military education and experience toward Colorado operator certification.
- To help retain first-semester female students, including those facing the challenge of returning to work after raising children, Red Rocks Community College’s water quality management program started informal mentorships where former or senior female students provide support.
Set students up for success.
- Hire high schoolers through internships to grab their interest while they’re deciding what to do next.
- Volunteer for children’s water festivals or partner with programs such as youth corps that help young adults gain hands-on experience.
Spark interest by sharing your story.
- Treat all of your communications as part of your brand, which should inspire others.
- Offer job shadowing and share videos of employees in the field to give a real view of what it’s like to work for you.
Storytelling helps all water employers gain visibility, says Shirley Martinez, diversity and inclusion advisor for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Let’s start telling our stories in a way that students will understand and be interested. Let’s make our jobs more attractive and show that they’re of value to people.”