Innovation is found in our people!
I was recently asked to submit a response to WEF’s WE&T magazine asking me about, “how people are tackling water issues around the globe locally, and …innovative initiatives is your region undertaking to handle those issues?” Our membership is so varied, and our challenges so numerous, I couldn’t focus on any specific issue, so here is what I submitted from CWWA:
As THE national association for water and wastewater professionals in Canada, it is difficult to name just one, or even just a few, of our shared challenges and the common issues we are all facing. But regardless of the issue, the answers will be discovered, developed, tested and implemented by people. We rely on the ingenuity and passion of dedicated water professionals. So when asked to write about an innovation in Canada, I have to note two trends related to these people – and I see them as closely related.
First is a new appreciation for the depth and width of our potential talent pool. Municipal utilities, and their partners, are rethinking their recruitment and retention programs to consider this wider potential. Diversity and inclusivity are the guiding principles of workforce development plans. New recruiting methods work to eliminate systemic biases, creating opportunities for candidates of varying ages, gender, and cultures. But to get the most from this wider workforce, and to retain them, requires a commitment to change the workplace norms in order to make them feel welcomed and appreciated.
The second trend is the growing number of municipal/academic partnerships. This is another opportunity for utilities to tap into a tremendous pool of dedicated water people. Utilities have challenges to solve while universities have the talent and resources to dedicate to problem-solving. ACWA (Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets) is an innovation alliance that has teamed the City of Calgary with the University of Calgary to create an active wastewater research and testing facility. Other alliances like the Southern Ontario Water Consortium in Ontario or CentrEau in Quebec are facilitating many more such partnerships. I could site partnerships from coast to coast to coast that are developing the innovative solutions we need.
To add a little extra for you, our members, I can say that CWWA has been looking closely at this area of human resources and workforce development for a number of years. We have featured sessions at our conferences and this is a major focus of our Utility Leadership Committee. After we get our guidance document “Toward a Sustainable Utility” released in January, the committee will advance on a second guidance document on workforce development. The issue of diversity and inclusivity are being taken very seriously by us and by all of our provincial/regional partners, at WEF and at AWWA. Our world is changing and we are all welcoming that change.
As for the municipal/academic partnerships, I know they have been around in many forms for years, but I am seeing many more of these partnerships and more agencies and alliances putting these together. Foremost is the Canadian Water Network (CWN) and their ability to identify knowledge gaps in our sector and put critical players together. Before this pandemic hit and live events were cancelled, this whole topic of partnerships was to be a major theme of our national conference. I hope we get a chance to focus on this soon and demonstrate the benefits to all of our members.