Knowledge plus sharing equals transformation

Recently, I sat down with Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, AWWA's new president, to discuss the association's top initiatives for the coming year, including the unveiling of its new strategic plan.

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Recently, I sat down with Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, AWWA’s new president, to discuss the association’s top initiatives for the coming year, including the unveiling of its new strategic plan.

“We had some new initiatives started in 2013 with our strategic planning,” said Bennett-Bailey. “We tweaked those a little bit, but we really focused on our core values.”

These core values serve as the guiding principles of the strategic plan and include: protect public health; safeguard the environment; share best practices; inspire innovation; and foster diversity and inclusion.

Bennett-Bailey also highlighted a major initiative that AWWA is emphasizing this year: the water equation. “In the water business, we have a lot of technical folks and so we love equations,” she said. “And the great thing about equations is they are solvable.” The water equation, she explained, is “knowledge plus sharing equals transformation.”

The concept centers around workforce development. “If you look around any business in America right now, you are going to see there are lots of baby boomers,” she pointed out. With an average of 10,000 of them reaching retirement age every day, the water industry is feeling an impact. “So we need to make sure that we are attracting folks into our profession,” she said. “This is a really amazing profession to be a part of, and the water equation is focused on that.”

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With that in mind, AWWA, in conjunction with its 43 member sections, aims to have the largest water scholarship program in the world. “Our manufacturers and associates have a number of scholarships already going, and we introduced a new scholarship in January,” she said. Called the One AWWA Operator Scholarship, it already has support from 29 sections.

Money for the scholarship comes from matching funds from AWWA and the participating sections, funds that are focused directly on operator training. Considering estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that an additional 7,000 water and wastewater operators will be needed over the next decade, educational funding is clearly an integral component of the water equation.

Another is the Community Engineering Corps. “This is an opportunity for folks to go into neighboring communities to help them out with the projects that they couldn’t get off the ground, or engineering skills or expertise that they don’t have the finances to do themselves,” explained Bennett-Bailey. “So it’s an opportunity to give back within our communities,” she added.

“So the water equation, the scholarships, the community engineering corps, transforming our future… what better way to attract young people than to say we believe in you so much, we are going to invest in you,” she stated. “That’s really what the water equation is about.”

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