Pictured (left to right) are: Ellen Durnin, dean of the SCSU School of Business; Larry Bingaman, president and CEO of the Regional Water Authority; and SCSU President Mary A. Papazian.
With nearly one-third of the workforce at the region’s utility companies eligible to retire within five years, Southern and Gateway Community College are developing a pipeline to provide highly qualified individuals to fill those anticipated openings.
In collaboration with the Regional Water Authority, the two schools have created a pathway for students to receive the education necessary to fill those projected managerial and technological job openings. Gateway is developing a certificate and an associate degree in public utility management. SCSU is creating a specialization in public utility management within the Bachelor of Science degree program in business administration – a program that may be the first of its kind in the country.
“I know of no other bachelor’s degree program in the United States that focuses specifically on public utility management,” said Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, an association of the largest publicly-owned drinking water utilities in the United States. “This unique program should fill a void in the development of future water utility leaders.”
The specialization, offered by SCSU, will include 30 credits that focus on management of public utilities, such as water, gas, electric and wastewater. New courses in crisis/risk management, green energy and environmental sustainability, and workforce safety and industry regulatory codes will be part of the program. It also will include existing courses – such as in business communications, business law, public utility/governmental accounting, and business continuity planning – which will have sections tailored to focus on elements of utility management.
Many students are likely to begin at Gateway, attain an associate degree, and transfer to SCSU in their third year to complete their B.S. degree program with the specialization. But existing and incoming students at SCSU may opt to start their program at SCSU.
The pathway was approved Dec. 3 by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education.
“We are very excited to be able to offer this new program, which will start next fall,” said Ellen Durnin, dean of the SCSU School of Business. “At Southern, one of our commitments is to meet the needs of the state workforce. This is exactly the type of program that will accomplish that goal. At the same time, it will provide our students with skills necessary for a career in that field.”
Durnin said internships at various utility companies in Connecticut will be offered to SCSU students, as part of the new collaboration.
“This is an exciting program that benefits the utilities, SCSU and Gateway, as well as the students,” said Larry Bingaman,” president and CEO of the Regional Water Authority (RWA). “The utilities gain a pool of qualified candidates to assume management and technical positions; SCSU and Gateway have a new curriculum that meets the needs of local utilities; and the students gain new career opportunities.”
Bingaman said that in the case of the RWA, half of its employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years. And more than a third are eligible to retire now. But this “graying of the workforce” trend is not unique to the RWA or public utilities in the region. Officials point to similar concerns throughout New England and in other parts of the nation. An aging workforce — combined with changes in regulations, technology and the push toward “greener energy” sources — pose new challenges for the utility industry.
Durnin said the RWA approached SCSU and Gateway two years ago with the idea of establishing this type of program. Subsequently, representatives of other utility companies supported the concept. “The utilities demonstrated a serious need for this type of training because of the demographic trends and anticipated retirements,” Durnin said. “They have employees who want to be trained to fill these soon-to-be openings, and we have the faculty who can provide this specialized education.”
In addition, existing and traditional-age SCSU students may wish to pursue public utility management as a career.
The departments facing the most pressing hiring needs in the public utility field include customer service, field operations, employee relations, information technology, purchasing, and finance and quality assurance, according to an industry study conducted by SCSU and Gateway. The average salaries range between $55,600 and $75,833, depending upon an applicant’s level of experience and educational background.
For further information, contact Richard Bassett, chairman of the SCSU Management and Management Information Systems Department, at firstname.lastname@example.org.