Editorial: Facing our No. 1 problem

The challenge of finding and keeping good employees may be linked to a visibility – or an invisibility – problem.
Colleen Cross
January 23, 2019
By
Our fall edition showcased 10 fine young ground water professionals. Unfortunately finding great employees like those we featured seems harder and harder to do. It’s still the No. 1 challenge and threat to the water well industry.

At Groundwater Week in Las Vegas, we attended a seminar called “What Is Your Business Outlook for the Next Five Years: Thrive or Dive?” led by Kathryn Butcher, who oversees professional development for the National Ground Water Association.

Butcher asked: “Where will you be in five years?” Although many operators expected their businesses to improve, today all still face the problem of finding and keeping good workers.

Of course, the meat-and-potatoes issue of fair pay rates came up. The consensus was that it is important to communicate to employees both the financial and non-financial benefits of the job such as learning new skills, working outdoors and working independently. Putting aside pay, a young hydrogeology student said, young people want to join a company that shares their values and has a good long-term plan.

As moderator, Butcher asked how ground water could sell itself as a promising industry to young people who come from a family culture, such as children of farmers. One answer came from a seminar participant: promote the fact that a person can learn every aspect of a trade or business working for a smaller company.

Several people shared strategies that have worked for them. Posting help wanted ads on social media was drawing good candidates. The key to this, some said, was changing the ads to highlight different character traits they are looking for. For example, while one ad might appeal to those seeking independence, another might appeal to those who enjoy working outdoors. This means posting multiple ads for the same position. It can be time consuming, and if not done carefully, one attendee pointed out, can leave an impression of high turnover.

Asking current employees to refer friends, advertising on billboards near major intersections, placing job ads in magazines, and on websites such as InDeed (which you can access from groundwatercanada.com), all were touted as successful strategies. Alas, there is no magic bullet.

Could the answer be as simple as prioritizing your talent search? One wise business owner asked others in the room if they were putting in the time required to solve their number 1 business problem.

The skills shortage and generation gap are felt by many industries. But for this industry it may go deeper to a visibility – or an invisibility – problem. Many talented candidates overlook the skilled trades, and many don’t recognize water well drilling as a potential career. They don’t know how ground water differs from surface water and they don’t know what drillers do from day to day.

Focus on telling your story. Maybe that means improving your communication and marketing skills through a workshop. Maybe it means asking for testimonials from your customers. Maybe it means sharing videos of your team at work.

The folks at NGWA have developed fact sheets, learning management systems, instructional videos and many more tools. Make use of these tools! Ground Water Awareness Week, established by the NGWA and also highlighted at groundwatercanada.com in early March, is a great time to promote the importance of ground water to well owners and to the general public, including potential new hires.

Until we get better at describing and defining who we are to others outside the industry, they won’t grasp why they should understand, care about or be a steward of ground water. If we don’t tell them, who will?

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