In an era where job-hopping is commonplace, Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD) continues to boast a healthy percent of employees who are in it for the long haul. In industries where job specialization is a key to success, this trend bodes well for both the organization and employees alike, especially when on-the-job training is the norm.
Like other skilled trades, water professionals present a good career opportunity. According to Water World magazine, “Utility jobs offer a career path toward a solid middle-class future, with fewer educational barriers than other fields. Unlike some public-sector jobs, a college degree is not a necessity for a rewarding, lifelong position in the water and wastewater industry. …However, those workers require more extensive on-the-job training…”.
Earl Foster, LMUD’s General Manager has been with the organization since 2006. He said, “Experience doesn’t have a price tag, especially in this industry. We rely on our staff to make smart decisions every day that greatly impact the health and safety of the community we serve, so we truly appreciate when people choose to grow their institutional knowledge with us.”
Over the last two monthly Board of Directors meetings, Foster and a board made up of five elected LMUD customers, recognized four LMUD employees for their tenure with LMUD: Tommy Farrell was presented with an award upon his retirement after 32 years of service; Roger Fry, Wastewater Plant Operations Supervisor, was recognized for his 20 years of service; Pauli Delgado, set to retire this year, was recognized for 30 years of service; and Vanessa Farrell, Utility Billing Specialist, was recognized for her 10 years of service.
Experience doesn’t have a price tag, especially in this industry. We rely on our staff to make smart decisions every day that greatly impact the health and safety of the community we serve, so we truly appreciate when people choose to grow their institutional knowledge with us.
-Earl Foster, LMUD General Manager
Studies suggest job-hopping has become more common because employees are finding it harder to feel fulfilled at work. The top cited job satisfaction criteria include opportunities for promotion, challenging tasks, positive work environment, competitive benefits, and pay increases. Farrell stated her longevity with LMUD stems from opportunity as well as stability. “I have stayed because I don’t like change. LOL. Once I get used to something, it takes a lot for me to try something new. I have had the opportunity to be promoted and I also like our retirement benefits.”
But as Board President Jerry Hietpas pointed out at the September 9, 2020 Board meeting where Farrell was recognized, her position requires being adaptive. Speaking on the technological advancements and software upgrades that LMUD has experienced over her employment, Hietpas said, “The small [admin] crew…continue to make changes…they just roll with the punches…”. Hietpas has served on the Board since 2005.
Fry has spent the majority of his 20 year-career with LMUD as a supervisor. He manages a team of wastewater operators who are typically hired on with little to no experience in wastewater treatment to whom he enjoys passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He said, “I enjoy my job every day. Operating is interesting and can be challenging; even after so many years in the industry, I continue to learn new things. I enjoy teaching my team as much as I can and watching them grow. I go home each day with a sense of accomplishment.”
While merit raises have always been a benefit given to LMUD employees after each evaluation period, the Board recently voted to increase the hourly rates for field operations crew to remain competitive with surrounding utilities. Loyd Smith, LMUD’s Finance/Admin Manager said, “We have a lot of young guys who perform hard, physical labor installing and repairing our community’s water and wastewater systems. They probably don’t see themselves as performing important work, but we try to let them know that what they do has value. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.”
LMUD is a small organization of about 30 employees, but Foster has tried to structure it in a way that allows for job promotions. He said, “Within each department, we have a supervisor and a team lead which are positions filled by employees who go above and beyond what’s expected of them.” Cyprain “Cy” Ndefung is one of LMUD’s newer employees, but his superior work ethic and commitment to quality quickly earned him the title of Construction Crew Lead. Prior to LMUD, Ndefung was a teacher and an agricultural businessman in his home country of Cameroon. He said working for LMUD was supposed to be temporary. “When I migrated to Austin in 2019 to join my wife who had been here for four years already, I was desperate to work anywhere to support my family. A friend based in Lakeway told me about the job opening and helped me to apply for it. This was to be a temporary job for me until I could figure out what to do with my newfound life in America, but the team welcomed me with open arms and I felt at home. LMUD has growth opportunities and it’s more stable and lasting than other fields.”
Stephanie Threinen, LMUD’s Public Information Liaison, was also new to the water industry when she started with LMUD in 2017 on a contractual basis that evolved into a full-time position. Prior to her position with LMUD, she ran her own marketing company that catered to beauty brands. “Water and wastewater were a far cry from what I was used to, but I’m glad I made the switch. The work we do at LMUD is important, providing products and services that people rely on every day. I like that I am adding value to my community.”
While the country as a whole is faced with failing water infrastructure caused by aging systems, the pipes, valves, storage tanks, lift stations, and treatment plants that provide water, wastewater, and recycled water to the community of Lakeway remain safe and reliable thanks to the dedication of LMUD’s staff.