Staff training wins national award

Article image - Staff training wins national award Coffs Harbour Water staff with their national award for ‘Innovative Workforce Development’: (l – r) Nathan Palmer, Adam Wilson, Marty Bacon, Brad Devine, Matt Gittoes, Stuart McVicker and Tyler White.
An innovative approach to addressing loss of knowledge in the workplace when older people retire has seen Coffs Harbour Water win a national training excellence award.

Coffs Harbour Water, a business unit of Coffs Harbour City Council, won this year’s Government Skills Australia ‘Innovative Workforce Development Award’.
The Government Skills Australia awards recognise and celebrate outstanding contributions made by organisations in training and development in the government, water and public sector.

“The problems of recruiting and retaining younger people, developing the skills of existing staff to fill senior roles and retaining knowledge in the workplace, are issues facing councils across Australia,” said Steve McGrath, Council’s General Manager.

“Coffs Harbour Water’s staff demonstrated that identifying skills gaps, innovation, teamwork and good communication, can lead to outstanding results,” said Mr McGrath.

“Our previous recruitment strategies relied upon attracting skilled staff,” said Adam Wilson, Manager of Water Treatment at Coffs Harbour Water.

“We carried out a regional Training Needs Analysis in association with the NSW Public Sector Industry Training Advisory Body, which showed that this would not be a viable option in the future, as all water utilities would be facing similar challenges and competition would be intense.

“Instead, Coffs Harbour Water actively sought to develop its own workforce to meet future challenges. This involved providing existing staff with extensive training to fulfil all current and future requirements of their roles and improving skills to allow them to take advantage of opportunities for advancement.

“We are also actively working to change the workforce demographics to balance the large proportion of the workforce aged over 50 with a group of younger employees. Over the coming five to 10 years, this younger group will be developed to fill the senior roles as the older members of staff progressively retire.

“Since implementing the strategy, the proportion of staff under 30 in Coffs Harbour Water has been boosted from 10 to 15 percent of the workforce.

“In addition, the issue of losing the knowledge gained from years of experience — which often passes out of an organisation with the retirement of a senior manager — has also been successfully tackled, with staff that are looking towards retirement passing on their knowledge through mentoring, job rotation or role sharing.

“It’s been a challenging time, but the results speak for themselves,” said Mr Wilson.