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Homegrown: How Denver Water is addressing a looming workforce shortage

Customer service specialist turned water treatment tech is a shining example of how to develop industry experts.

You get out of bed in the morning, and you notice a pain that wasn’t there the day before.

You look in the mirror, and there are few new wrinkles in your face.

We’re all getting older, and that comes with a variety of impacts, both personally and professionally.

Jose Valero was recently promoted to Denver Water's Recycling Plant from Customer Care. He took advantage of tools Denver Water provides to help with professional development.

For the water industry, this is leading to a looming shortage of workers, as current employees are retiring at a higher rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations related to water treatment in particular will have a higher-than-average replacement rate through 2024.

So, what is Denver Water doing to ensure we continue to attract and retain the best employees possible?

“We want to grow our people within our organization,” said Julie Anderson, Denver Water’s chief of staff. “We encourage our employees to take advantage of a number of resources we have that can help in their career development.”

Employees like Jose Valero, who once worked for Anderson when she was Denver Water’s director of Customer Care.

Valero is currently a water treatment technician at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant. But that’s not what he came to Denver Water to do when he started in 2015.

“I had just been laid off from another job, and I got hired at Denver Water as a temp in the Customer Care division,” Valero says. “I eventually was hired full time and worked in the contact center for three years.”

But Valero had bigger ambitions. And Denver Water had more opportunities.

“Julie and others told me to take advantage of Denver Water’s tuition reimbursement program for continuing education. And I heard about the Emily Griffith Technical College for water quality management. It was right next to Denver Water, so I would work four hours a day and go to school for five.”

Valero received his degree in July this year, and that coincided with an opening at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant. Valero couldn't wait to submit his application.

“Jose was the right candidate to hire,” said David Brancio, a supervisor at the Recycling Plant. “The Emily Griffith program really helps students like Jose understand what the job duties are. With that understanding, they come in with an energy to learn about the system and want to be a team member to help move the treatment plant forward.”

Valero first developed his passion for working at Denver Water when he was hired to work in the contact center.

“I think one of the major benefits of hiring a candidate from inside the company is that they already have an understanding of Denver Water values, the importance of the water quality that we supply to our customers, and our pride in the water quality,” said Shana Colcleasure, a water treatment lead at the Recycling Plant. “Someone who is applying within the organization typically already loves the organization and is trying to further their career at a place they hope to stay with for the long term.”

Even with the background and training, Valero describes his first few weeks at his new gig as overwhelming. But the familiarity with Denver Water certainly helped.

“I had been on the front line with my customer service skills before. And now I’m behind the scenes helping a water system work. So I’m still working for our customers. I worked with great people in Customer Care, and now I’m fortunate to work with a great team at Recycling to help me in the transition.”

According to Anderson, there is real value both for Denver Water and its customers when people grow within the organization.

“We invest in our people who in turn contribute more value to the organization and ultimately our customers," she said. "It’s a win, win, win. That’s why it's so important that we continue to develop our own future workforce.”