If water is essential, how are we assuring a workforce that is ready for the future?
By Rachel Batdorff
I was a teenager when I “attended” my first site visit. I sat in the truck as my dad, a field service engineer for Franklin Electric, worked to troubleshoot a site installation in Michigan.
No doubt I was glued to my indestructible Nokia phone, likely playing the snake game—which I realize now is likely an outdated statement. It wasn’t until I started my own career at Franklin Electric four years ago that I truly began to comprehend what it takes to support our life-sustaining resource.
Moving water has always been a challenge. It’s why ancient civilizations were located near water sources. Today, much of our water substructure is hidden underground, unconscious to the everyday life of the end user.
Learning by Exposure
A young teenage me was oblivious to my water source. Today’s teenagers are also likely unaware of where their water comes from—and what it takes to get it. My awareness came about from experience and exposure, and I’m not alone.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Mike Price’s three-part series in Water Well Journal titled “Workforce Development in the Water Well Industry” (December 2020–February 2021 issues).
In it, he discussed a hot topic for all of us: the blue-collar labor shortage in the United States. From installers to manufacturers—we’re all looking for strategies and tactics we can implement to recruit talent to the industry while also upskilling an existing workforce.
Awareness is a big part of this. Promoting an industry narrative will help us get there.
Water Is Essential, and So Are We
Working in the groundwater industry is working for a life-sustaining resource. Groundwater is essential to sustaining human life on planet Earth, and this is a message both the young and old can relate to.
As much as 44% of Americans rely on water from wells provided by the groundwater industry. Aging water infrastructure may also affect the health of people and the environment.
Clean water is correlated to life expectancy. Think back to the days of the Oregon Trail in your history books where dysentery put your life expectancy at 30. In developing regions, lack of access to clean water may even limit young women’s educational opportunities. Instead of attending school, their time is dedicated to traveling to and from water sources.
A concise industry narrative will help us communicate and educate about this critical service we’re providing. We can then back up this narrative with recruiting and training programs that strengthen us collectively.
Training and Education Considerations
Employees with vocational or technical training are hard to find and in high demand. With the skill sets needed to perform installation and service calls few and far between, training is essential.
Communicating the need and value will not be easy. On average, a person needs 22 messages to reinforce an idea. For employers, important considerations include curating or choosing the right resources, a declining attention span, and addressing the five major reinforcement gaps—knowledge, skills, motivation, environment, and communication. It’s an investment of time.
When we address the blue-collar labor shortage in the United States, we also need to consider addressing the newest generation entering the workforce specifically. Raised on technology (and no, Nokia phones do not count), this generation is cause-focused, multimedia-oriented, and rapidly multitasks.
In the learning and development world, constructivism is one central model of how learning occurs. This classification is founded on the notion that the only important reality is in the learner’s mind. The learner, or student, is not passive but rather at the center of instruction. The learner controls their learning process, using instructors as mediators and resource tools as guides to help them through their lifelong journey. Overall, the learner-centered approach aims to create meaningful online or in-person environments that include active communication and collaboration.
This approach fits the intuitive nature of those entering the workforce and those looking to upskill or reskill.
Putting Theory into Action
Working at Franklin Electric has given me a new perspective on what water means to all of us. It has also given me the chance to see how the above strategy and direction can be implemented.
Franklin Electric has been a long-time manufacturing partner of the National Ground Water Association. This association is actively committed to bringing together all players within our industry to chart comprehensive tactics for recruiting and training both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.
As an industry, we share the need to address and solve the shortage of groundwater professionals quickly.
Enter online environments. Easily accessible and appealing to a digitally native audience, or those pressed for time, online channels can serve as a point-of-need resource or path to certifications, degrees, or skill advancement.
Playing on the digital focus while facilitating learner-centered customization, we’re pleased to contribute to the impact brought by NGWA’s Learning Center. This solution acts as a one-stop shop resource for licensing and certification of continued education and new skills.
With an unceasing (and inspiring) pace, NGWA continues to spearhead actions to enrich this solution. Hence, the most recent launch of the Drilling Basics Online, a groundwater training program devoted to improving the safety and skills of drilling industry members.
The result of a powerful collaboration between NGWA and Oklahoma State University and the support of select industry founding partners, this online program has been crafted to systematically address the critical shortage of professionals in the groundwater industry. The program is for industry professionals, university students, and entry-level workers looking for career development opportunities that can lead to certifications or university degrees.
Specifically addressing product knowledge, FranklinTECH Online, launched during Groundwater Week 2019, targets the professional contractor, and includes e-courses, videos, and webinars. This site can also allow new employee onboarding and continued education through team training assignment functionality for the business owner.
As we know, training is relational. True skill mastery cannot be achieved until knowledge is applied and practiced. I’m sure you’ve seen our skilled Field Service Engineering team at industry shows and conferences across the nation. In addition, our team is available to assist with custom onsite training and troubleshooting.
This team sacrifices evenings, weekends, and time on the road to meet industry professionals where and when instruction is needed. As another point-of-need resource, our knowledgeable Technical Support Team can offer real answers in real time.
One final consideration for access to training and education is cost. To address this, the Franklin Electric Len Assante Scholarship Fund is one of the solutions that we facilitate for the hard-working water professionals in partnership with The Groundwater Foundation. Thanks to the initiative, the grant is annually awarded to individuals in pursuit of educational opportunities to advance their careers in the groundwater industry.
Addressing the blue-collar labor shortage gap is not a singular motion, but instead multiple teams and multiple arms of our industry working together with relentless monitoring in today’s ever-shifting digital age. While working together, we are optimistic for what tomorrow holds and dedicated to ensuring this industry is set up for future success.
Rachel Batdorff is the global program manager, customer education and training solutions at Franklin Electric. She is the daughter of Dave Batdorff, a longtime Franklin Electric regional field service manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.