Demography is destiny

Of the 6 challenges facing water companies that we have identified (increasing population and urbanisation, more extreme weather events, an ageing network infrastructure, an ageing workforce, customers becoming more demanding, and difficulty in increasing revenue or accessing capital), the one that gets the least column inches is Ageing Workforce.

DemographySo it’s good to read Peter Brooks’ article in Water Innovation entitled ‘Demography is Destiny.’ He cites regulators warning that half of the water operators in the USA will retire in the next 12-18 months.

Peter draws attention to the importance of the provision of water services, calling it the 3rd pillar of public safety after firefighting and the police.

The loss, Peter says, is talent and institutional knowledge. We think that it.s institutional knowledge that’s the main issue. Especially on the networks side of the water business, knowledge is often lodged in people’s heads. GIS may (or may not) contain factual information about the location of assets, but the valuable information is how the network operates, what went wrong last time and how it was fixed, what customers are likely to be affected.

Just to manage risks, water companies need to think about how to codify this information and make it widely available. If they don’t then they are reliant on accessing an individual. This isn’t always easy with employees: they might be busy, on leave, sick, or not in an area with mobile phone coverage. But retirement marks a more permanent end to their accessibility.

The answer must be to use software to capture and make widely available this valuable information. Before it walks out of the door. As Peter points out: ‘nothing will prevent these departures from happening, demography is destiny, and trying to reverse the trend of retirements is a fruitless effort.’