One of the greatest challenges the water industry faces in the coming years is to attract and retain a new generation of workers amidst a time of windfall retirements by employees from the baby boomer generation. Nearly a quarter of operators and essential personnel are expected to retire over the next five years, taking with them years of experience and know-how.
But with changing times come changes in ideas and approaches. A broad spectrum of generational diversity and in particular, diversity in thought, experiences and work ethics exists in the water industry today. In honor of Diversity Awareness Month, and the launch of United Water’s “Generation Lynk” business resource group to foster generational collaboration, we interviewed Danilo Aguilar, United Water’s Multimedia Manager.
United Water Blog: Danilo, what types of challenges did you encounter as a “Millennial” entering what is widely considered to be a baby boomer dominated water utility and services industry?
Danilo: Perhaps you’ve read some stereotypes about my generation: we’re too entitled, we have no loyalty, we’re money hungry and worst of all; we have no work ethic.
I can’t imagine being successful in any industry without striving for excellence in everything you do; without the drive to continually improve and deliver awesome results.
During my first months in a company predominately operated by Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers, I have to admit that I was intimidated by the amount of skills and knowledge all my colleagues possessed. These employees have multiple decades of hands-on experience; they know the water and wastewater industry as well as they know one another’s first names.
Although I wasn’t fresh out of college, the utility industry was a mystery to me. But then came the plot twist: I lived in my company’s service territory all along and never knew it. I drank the water but never gave thought to how it reached my tap.
United Water Blog: What can your experience tell us about the future direction of the water utility industry?
Danilo: Flash-forward to 2013: I’m still learning, but my approach has changed. I’m no longer trying to be my generation’s exception. I have embraced the strengths that come with my having been born into an age of innovation and technology. Things are different for everyone now that information is available at the push of a Tweet. Our customers’ interest in water issues has increased and they want to hear more about what we do and how they can help to better manage water in their communities. In fact, I would say that we are no longer a “utility” but a professional water services company. We deliver water knowledge to our customers as well as water service.
The rapidly changing ways in which the world communicates necessitated our adoption of new technologies and new ways of doing our job. And thanks to our diverse generational workforce, we have all the elements we need to build our future. As the comparable new kid on the block, I have new ideas and new perspectives that are valued.
United Water Blog: The world is rapidly changing how it communicates and receives information. Does being a “Millennial” give you a leg up professionally on some of these rapid changes?
Danilo: As a communications professional, I have access to a reservoir of expertise that I can tap into at any time. (Pun intended). That’s what is so fulfilling about working in this environment. Different communication approaches can be successful because of the industry wisdom that was built by generations of water and wastewater professionals committed to excellence. My duties to engage in new media have a strong foundation of information, as well as stories of employees who have committed themselves to providing the most essential services. Thanks to these professionals, I have all the tools I need to succeed in my mission: educating and informing our customers about their water.