City of Tucson Water Department Project Spotlight Q&A

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

When it comes to evaluating, designing and delivering customized training, no company is better qualified than EDSI. That’s a big statement, but we have deep knowledge and years of experience to back it up. If you’re a utility services company in need of updating your training to align with industry standards, check out our City of Tucson project spotlight Q&A interview below.

I sat down with Kim Glenn, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions (ILS) and Brian Lester, Director of Workforce Solutions to discuss more about their training project with the City of Tucson Water Maintenance and Customer Service Divisions.

Left: Kim Glenn Right: Brian Lester

Q1: How did you initially engage with the City of Tucson – what was their need/what were they trying to accomplish?

KG: EDSI responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) and was awarded a contract to conduct an industry benchmarking study and evaluate, update, and deliver skill-based training for City of Tucson employees in the Water Maintenance and Customer Service Divisions. The City was looking to hire a firm to evaluate and update existing training and practices by building a customized, skill-based training curriculum based on results from the benchmarking study. The end goal was to ensure training aligned with the industry’s best practices and secure the utility’s position as a model organization with a highly trained and qualified workforce.

Q2: What other experience does EDSI have working with other utility companies?

BL: EDSI has expansive industry experience providing a variety of training-related services to multiple utility companies across the U.S. Our water and wastewater industry work has been done primarily for American Water, the largest and most geographically diverse U.S. publicly traded water and wastewater utility company, with more than 7,000 employees providing drinking water and managing wastewater for more than 15 million people in 46 states.

We also worked with DTE Energy in Michigan and Seattle City Light, a community-owned, not-for-profit utility that generates and delivers electricity across the Seattle, Washington region. Duquesne Light Company in Pennsylvania received our train-the-trainer (T3) training, which is one of our most requested offerings.

In addition to public utilities, EDSI has worked with more than 20 transit agencies across the country to develop training for their maintenance workforces.

Q3: Can you give us a project overview of the work that took place at the City of Tucson? How has the project changed/expanded since the start (if at all)?

KG: The EDSI Innovative Learning Solutions Team evaluated the existing training, conducted a benchmarking study in the industry, and updated Tucson Water’s current curriculum. Customized curriculum addressed local needs and included a train-the-trainer component that will help the city sustain this training in the future. EDSI’s instructional design team continues to work with departmental leadership and subject matter experts to design or redesign training modules to better meet the needs of the organization. A curriculum map for each division is being created and priority modules identified. Our instructional design team is introducing a blended learning curriculum to upskill staff, improve training outcomes, and ultimately improve training experiences for staff to increase retention and reduce turnover.

Q4: What are important strategies or deliverables that you and the team have implemented to make this project so successful?

BL: The most important strategy to start with in a project like this is a benchmarking study, with the purpose of assessing the skills required to perform the job, conducting a job task analysis, and using the job task analysis to drive the rest of the study. The job task analysis is utilized to evaluate the relevancy of the current training curriculum and identify gaps. It will be used as the basis to survey the broader industry on current training and assessment practices. The job task analysis, which details the actual job tasks performed, becomes the common language that allows for an apples-to-apples comparison.

The job task analysis will also form the foundation of a rubric that the EDSI team will use to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the training curriculum, the quality of the classroom materials and manuals, delivery methods, use of technology, availability of hands-on experiences, classroom environments, and teaching techniques. Our approach to this project includes defining local and industry skill needs, evaluating training program offerings, identifying gaps between needs and training program offerings, and providing recommendations to addressing the gaps. The City will receive digital copies of the training curriculum, assessments, video content and related files at the end of the project. The culmination of this project will lead to the delivery of exemplary utility services for over a million residents in the Tucson metro area.

Overall, EDSI’s foundation for success is the collaborative and iterative approach to our work. Continuous improvement, re-evaluation, and ongoing feedback loops with our customers ensure the highest quality trainings are created and deliverables truly meet the needs of the organization.

Q5: What are some key design principles/curriculum principles to keep in mind when designing skill-based training at this scale?

KG: EDSI’s approach to curriculum design, development, implementation, and evaluation is rooted in evidence-based theories and instructional design models. EDSI’s instructional design model is based upon the assumption that curriculum elements are aligned to the cognitive demands of the job. Contextualizing the curriculum means integrating concepts from occupational areas and incorporating activities relevant to trainees’ work experience. Our trainings are designed to follow a competency-based model based on defined learning outcomes. We focus on elevating training objectives via Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), emphasizing adult learning strategies from Malcolm Knowles, and integrating multi-modal strategies (Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic) based on the VARK learning styles theory by Neil Flemming.

EDSI’s approach to the curriculum design for both skill-based programs (Water Maintenance and Customer Service Divisions) was to start with the skills required to perform the job by conducting a job task analysis and use the job task analysis to drive the curriculum development process. After completion and approval of the job task analysis, the EDSI instructional design team worked work with the City’s Project Team and subject matter experts to implement our multi-step approach that leveraged the ADDIE Instructional Design Model.

Development of the curriculum content is still ongoing, but we are quite proud of what we’ve delivered so far. The material is substantial and clearly connected to the job tasks and on-the-job training expectations. We are providing content that supports and enables successful on-the-job practice of the skills being taught. It is our hope that the engaging, interactive, and relevant curricula design work we are doing results in increased learner engagement, improved knowledge retention and transfer, and ultimately reduces employee turnover.

Q6: There was a strong train-the-trainer component to this project – what did that involve and why is it important?

KG: Many of the clients we work with- including the City of Tucson – are not professional instructors; they have learned their trade as frontline workers and have moved into instructor roles. To assist our clients, EDSI developed a 2-day train-the-trainer program to provide staff with the basic concepts of adult learning theory, curriculum development, and classroom management. We always recommend that our client’s designated instructors go through the 2-day training to be able to continue sharing the new knowledge and processes as time goes on. During train-the-trainer sessions with the City of Tucson, EDSI instructors are preparing to delve into the new curriculum developed as a result of this project, providing the City’s instructors an opportunity to become familiar with the curriculum and how to deliver it.

INS Team

EDSI’s Innovative Learning Solutions (ILS) division serves a diverse portfolio of clients in varying sectors and industries. The ILS team members are “facilitators of learning,” and work toward empowering participants to take ownership of the learning process. Taking a behaviorist approach, EDSI instruction focuses on delivering solid curriculum that structures the environment to maximize learning potential. Concepts surrounding active learning, creating a motivational learning environment, promotion of critical thinking, and contextualized instruction guide our instructors as they create challenging and engaging learning opportunities.

At the core of all of this is practical, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that allow learners the opportunity to apply what they learn in real-life scenarios and situations. Using the Socratic Method, EDSI instructors focus heavily on encouraging learners to think through situations to apply existing knowledge, make connections and ultimately think on their own to solve problems.

Q7: As an expert in curriculum development, what are some of the primary benefits that EDSI offers to utility departments looking to update their training?

KG: EDSI has a long history of working with companies, industries, government agencies, and utilities. Developing curriculum, instruction guides, participant manuals, course descriptions, quizzes, assessments, and other training materials is our business and we have been doing it since 1979. EDSI is unique in that we have experience working in several industries that rely on workers with similar skill sets – the water and wastewater utility industries, public transportation, manufacturing, power generation, and power distribution.

Our team of instructional designers all have extensive experience designing and facilitating in-person trainings, live webinars/classes, and asynchronous/synchronous eLearning content. Our team embraces adult learning theory and incorporates those principles in all content. We have an extensive list of trainers with a variety of educational backgrounds. We are well-known and respected in the industry for our train-the-trainer programs where we teach facilitators the art of instructional delivery.

In addition to designing and deploying customized training to more than 50 local workforce development regions across the county, EDSI has demonstrated successful collaborations with state and local government agencies in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Georgia, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Q8: Tell me more about the types of training and specific work that was done for some of your clients across the U.S.

BL: A common theme across our previous projects with utilities was conducting Knowledge Loss Risk Assessments, and developing risk mitigation plans to document and transfer critical knowledge

Our work with Pennsylvania American Water (PAAW) started with PAAW’s Maintenance Services department, whose technicians were focused on high-level instrument and control setup and troubleshooting. Working closely with PAAW technicians, the EDSI team created training documents, including a SCADA Troubleshooting Guidebook, which comprised a series of logic trees that identified general SCADA troubleshooting processes, courses of actions to take when water treatment plants go down, and how to isolate and manage the zones within the different Western Pennsylvania water systems. Other customized training materials included a station startup guidebook and a training guide describing the specifications, installation and maintenance procedures for flow meters, pressure reducing valves, and other control valves.

The EDSI team also worked with PAAW to develop SCADA Troubleshooting and Manual Operations training for their Hershey, West Shore and Yardley water treatment plants. These training programs included instructions for plant operations, assuming a total loss of SCADA, with special attention to calculating and delivering correct chemical dosages, and manual filter backwashes, charts showing name and purpose of RTUs, connections between them, including remote sites, and pictures of RTUs and local controls, instructions for dealing with partial loss of SCADA or RTU communication, charts showing the key controls (outputs) and analyzer/instrumentation (inputs) connected to each RTU, and lists of action steps if the RTU is out of service.

Q9: What outcomes can you share from the City of Tucson project? What are you proud of?

BL: The first phase of the project involved analyzing the tasks and skills of the maintenance and meter service positions, developing a curriculum map and an administrative process infrastructure that met the best practice benchmarks discovered from surveying peer utilities.

Tucson Water has had an extensive skill-based-pay program for Utility Technician (maintenance) employees for many years, but the program was quite challenging to administer for supervisors and managers, and frustrating to trainees with its limited flexibility. Through our analysis process, we’ve proposed changes to the organization of the curriculum, the process for documenting skills, and have added new mentoring components. These new processes should result in better skill outcomes over a shorter period of time. With Meter Service, the infrastructure for a brand new training program was developed, with clear task and skill requirements across a three-year program to move from a level 1 to a level 3 service technician. This position has changed significantly in recent years with remote meter reading technology, and the skill base of this part of the workforce will benefit from the comprehensive program.

Development of the curriculum content is still ongoing, but we are quite proud of what we’ve delivered so far. The material is substantial and clearly connected to the job tasks and on-the-job training expectations. We are providing content that supports and enables successful on-the-job practice of the skills being taught.

Q10: What best practices can you share with other regions who desire a modernized training plan for their city utility departments?

KG: EDSI approaches all our projects as a partnership with our clients. Initial meetings include a review of the scope of work, project plan, and deliverables. If possible, a tour of the workplace should be requested in order to really get a feel for the work and existing processes. It is important to understand that our role is to do this work, and that the City’s Project Team has other responsibilities to perform related to their regular jobs.

To give you a glance at how EDSI starts up this type of project, here is our 5-step process:

  1. EDSI engages with the city’s project team to conduct the initial job task analysis.
  2. EDSI instructional design team gathers needed information, develops drafts, and executes needed revisions and expansions of the developed material.
  3. Multiple meetings are scheduled and take place in-person or virtually with the city’s project team and subject matter experts.
  4. Timeline is finalized, with each task outlined and interactions between the EDSI team and the city’s project team are structured.
  5. Throughout the process, weekly check-in meetings take place to review project status and deliverables.

Q11: What advice would you offer other utility companies looking to navigate a similar training transformation journey?

BL: In today’s competitive employment environment, many organizations are discovering a strong need to fully integrate training programs to provide new hires a clear pathway for career development. Especially in skilled trade areas, substantial numbers of retirements and other attrition far outnumber the ability to hire knowledgeable and experienced workers. While the investment in developing an integrated training program is substantial, the potential returns are enormous. A well-developed program will be customized to the local utilities' infrastructure, equipment, and work processes, and create long-term loyalty among the trainees as they move through the training program. A fully developed program also becomes the source of the next generation of supervisors, managers, and other leaders.

I would encourage other utilities to identify a particular position or function and explore what it would involve to develop, launch, and support an internal training program. Reaching out to peer utilities is a great way to begin to understand the process.

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