Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Capturing institutional knowledge: Will current best practices work for small public utilities in Pennsylvania?
by Adam, Liesel M., M.P.A., Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, 2008, 141; 1459859
Abstract (Summary)

Providing safe drinking water is a vital service for the community and is one of the most important quality-of-life issues in the United States today. Water utilities are faced with enormous pressures to replace aging infrastructure, meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, protect water resources from contamination and depletion, and to do all this while meeting the public's increasing customer-service expectations and demands to keep user rates as low as possible.

While water systems are regulated at the federal level, service is provided at the local level. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, this work is most often completed through the careful work of very small organizations. Career water utility professionals have been doing this job very well since the regulatory boom of the 1970s brought a large number of employees into the industry, predominantly Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. Now, many of these career professionals are approaching retirement age. How these small- and medium-sized utilities can address the risk associated with employees who hold high levels of critical knowledge retiring en masse over the next several years is the focus of this preliminary research.

First, a survey of water utilities from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was conducted to discover workforce demographics and the utilities' level of awareness and preparedness to address this risk. In addition, five water utility case studies were conducted to provide a more in-depth look at the solutions that have already been researched by large organizations, such as global corporations and federal agencies, to determine their applicability to small- and medium-sized water utilities in Pennsylvania.

The results present a hopeful message that small organizations may be equipped to address these risks if some simple guidance and tools are made available, focusing on streamlined analysis and planning activities and fostering an organizational culture that supports knowledge-sharing activities and the transfer of critical knowledge between employees through face-to-face interactions. However, to adequately address all the needs small- and medium-sized utilities face, funding for human resources (HR) activities must be made available in an environment that has traditionally not included in-house HR staffing. Absent funding for these activities, utilities will need to consider collaborative programs or even alternative arrangements for the provision of safe drinking water within their region as their staff's bank of institutional knowledge shrinks due to high employee turnover, or face the consequences of their failure to act.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Holoviak, Paula
Commitee:
School: Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Department: Public Administration
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: MAI 47/02M, Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Public administration
Keywords: Baby boomer retirements, Knowledge management, Knowledge transfer, Loss of institutional knowledge, Pennsylvania water utilities, Small organizations
Publication Number: 1459859
ISBN: 978-0-549-89873-3
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