Workforce development: Succession planning and trainee programs

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District’s O&M workforce development program builds capacity, stronger communities and a future workforce

In late 2021, the District launched a workforce development program for its Operations & Maintenance (O&M) department to address two critical needs: planning for future retirements and offering on-the-job training opportunities in the trades to attract women and people of color. Together, the District’s Succession Planning and Trainee programs provide an exciting and creative way to address workload and build on the District’s goal to have a diverse workforce.

Succession planning program

Facilities Maintenance Meeting
Facilities maintenance trainee Rigo Ramon-Solis participates in a meeting with lead facilities maintenance worker Chad Peterson.

One component of the District’s Workforce Development program, the Succession Planning program, looks critically at the District’s O&M workforce to identify near-term organizational vulnerabilities in staffing; we expect about 10 retirements in the skilled trades in the next five years. This position proactively addresses these anticipated gaps and is critically important in those areas where extended training or apprentice school is necessary. For example, electricians are critical to maintaining and operating the District’s intensive infrastructure, but apprentice school takes four years. Utilities like the District can’t wait for electricians to walk out the door before planning for the future.

The succession planning role is not assigned to a specific work unit and is allocated based on need. The District had two Succession Planning program hires in 2022; one joined the Electrical Maintenance workgroup to address anticipated electrician retirements. The other joined the Treatment Plant Operator workgroup to address a known retirement in late 2022.

The intent is to expand the Succession Planning program by at least one position per year. The succession planning position is a full-time position and is open to both internal and external candidates. The District further supports this position by providing full benefits, reimbursement, and work time for employees to complete the required education and training.

Trainee program

The District has many positions the U.S. Department of Labor defines as nontraditional occupations for women and people of color. Many of these positions are in the O&M department. Additionally, individuals coming into the O&M department’s Facilities Maintenance section are expected to have a high level of skill, which is becoming more challenging to find. The trainee program bridges both gaps by providing quality candidates with valuable hands-on experience in the trades to become a full-time Facilities Maintenance worker.

The two-year Trainee Program curriculum includes work the hire is expected to perform in their first few weeks, such as mowing and landscaping. It then moves into higher-level skills, like working with power tools, equipment operations skills and more. The trainees shadow and work closely with tenured Facilities Maintenance workers to capitalize on their knowledge and learn the nuances of working with our facility’s unique equipment and circumstances. In the second year, the work is structured so trainees gain additional hands-on experience, build confidence and become a productive, independent contributor to the team.

While the Trainee Program is open to anyone, the District worked with local organizations to attract candidates from nontraditional backgrounds. This included Operation Fresh Start, an organization that empowers emerging adults on a path to self-sufficiency, and the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. With our partners, we organized an open house at the District in December 2021, inviting participants to learn more about the program and tour our campus. More than 20 individuals attended, resulting in 12 diverse candidates applying for the program’s inaugural run. While the District doesn’t guarantee a full-time position once a trainee completes the program, opportunities regularly arise in this department.

Facilities maintenance worker Rigo Ramon-Solis was first hired through the workforce development trainee program.
Facilities maintenance worker Rigo Ramon-Solis was first hired through the workforce development trainee program.
Workforce development programs helped the District hire facilities maintenance trainee Kayla Gausmann.
Workforce development programs helped the District hire facilities maintenance trainee Kayla Gausmann.
Electrician Roy Rodriguez came on board as part of the District's Succession Planning program.
Electrician Roy Rodriguez came on board as part of the District’s Succession Planning program.

Out-of-the-gate success

The District’s first trainee, Rigoberto “Rigo” Ramon-Solis, was referred to the program by Latino Academy and enthusiastically attended our December open house. Before applying with the District, Rigo had worked in food service for 14 years; he had no experience in the trades. When asked what attracted him to the program, Rigo said it provided a new opportunity for him and his family, and he appreciates that each day brings a new and different challenge. Motivated to gain the necessary skills and experiences, Rigo committed to the program’s rigors and quickly moved into a full-time Facilities Maintenance position with the District in August 2022. With the first trainee moving into a full-time position, the District reopened the hiring process in September 2022, and the program’s first female trainee Kayla Gausmann started in late October 2022.

The District’s Succession Planning program is also off to a strong start. The District welcomed Rogelio “Roy” Rodriguez in September 2022 as its first journey electrician hired as part of the program.

The District takes a comprehensive approach to workforce development, providing a robust internship program, engaging in career outreach opportunities, and helping staff develop and grow in their careers through an array of training, educational and leadership opportunities. The Succession Planning and Trainee programs add another critical dimension to the District’s efforts, knitting together the need to plan for future retirements, the challenge of finding qualified candidates with the skills required to work in the wastewater sector, and the desire to support diversity, equity and inclusion, inside the fence and out. As Director of Wastewater Operations and Reliability Eric Dundee said in presenting the program to staff, “we need more help within O&M and there is no better time than now. With the District’s emphasis on inclusion, diversity and equity, building stronger communities, and planning for our future, these positions support the District’s goals and allow us to serve our owner communities more effectively.”

To learn more about District opportunities, workforce development programs, benefits and what it’s like to work here, visit the Careers section of our website.