posted on September 23, 2014 14:04
Back when our Tribal Utility News newsletter was just getting started, we surveyed our subscribers on tribal utilities’ biggest challenges and education needs. We’ve discussed the challenges they told us about here; today we’re going to talk about the education needs.
A lot of the topics suggested for emphasis in tribal utilities went hand-in-hand with the challenges we discussed in our previous post. Management support and general operations training topics came up more times than any other category, with water and wastewater treatment topics coming in a distant second.
Need for Management Training in Utility Topics
The management support topics covered the full range from record-keeping, ordinances and enforcement, and asset management; to rate-setting, budgeting, and funding sources. In our previous post on this survey, we mentioned that many respondents felt tribal councils didn’t always fully support the tribe’s utilities. So some of these educational needs could be related to that challenge. However, there has also been increasing awareness that managerial support is a need for many small systems. Operating in a small community can present special challenges. Finding funding can be more difficult, particularly for tribes. And things like enforcing ordinances or collecting past-due fees can be awkward when you know all of your customers personally. However, when the utility managers feel able to tackle these challenges, the whole utility is able to provide better service to the community and a better work environment to its operators.
An Introduction to General Operations
For operators, survey respondents focused on general O&M topics like SCADA, safety, and general mechanical training. Water and wastewater treatment and distribution topics were mentioned, but much less frequently. Many small rural utilities have difficulty keeping trained operators on staff. The isolation and other challenges mentioned in our previous post make this just as true for tribal utilities. This means many utilities have to periodically start from scratch, introducing apprentice operators to the basics of operation and maintenance. On a related note, a few survey respondents mentioned a need for awareness about certification programs for operators. Because clean drinking water and the sanitary disposal of waste are so essential to public health, it benefits communities to have operators who have received the proper training to achieve these goals. Operator certification programs are a way of ensuring that training takes place.
The good news is that there are a growing number of resources addressing these topics, both for small systems in general and for the specific challenges facing tribes. But first, we want your opinion on these survey results. Are these the training topics you would want at your tribal utility? Are there any topics you would add to the list? Comment and let us know.