Donald C. Stone Center Providing Comprehensive Training, Mentoring
By Terry Walker, Town of Windsor, Director of Public Works; Charwon Walter, CWP, PWM, Town of Windsor, Utility Supervisor; and Harry Lorick, PE, PWLF, Principal, LA Consulting
An innovative leadership and training program launched by the American Public Works Association (APWA) is helping public works departments of public agencies and municipalities nationwide train and credential tomorrow’s public works leaders.
The APWA Donald Stone Center (DCS) Leadership and Management credentialing program, developed in 2014, provides comprehensive and affordable training for the next generation of public works professionals in North America. DCS is also meeting the needs of public works departments to fill the vacuum created by the departure of experienced staff members, employees looking to advance their careers, or supervisors looking to further their body of knowledge.
This article outlines how one city used DCS to fill a leadership need and focuses on how an employee of the Town of Windsor’s Public Works Department was certified in what’s known as the Level 2: Public Works Manager Program.
The Town of Windsor is located 58 miles north of Denver, CO. The Public Works is responsible for 126 miles of water lines, 97 miles of wastewater collection lines, and 143 miles of street. Terry Walker, Director of Public Works, has become a strong proponent on employee development by using various ways to improve the skill sets of employees through training, and he recently decided to utilize APWA’s DCS Credentialing Program.
In 2013, Charwon Walter, a utility technician, had approached Walker to discuss career advancement opportunities. At the time, Walter had been with the agency for over 25 years, starting as a seasonal helper and eventually being promoted to Senior Utilities Technician. Walter’s work ethic and dedication demonstrated that he would be an ideal candidate for the program
The Certification Process
APWA provides for four levels of certification - Level 1: Public Works Supervisor (PWS); Level 2: Public Works Manager (PWM); Level 3: Public Works Executive (PWE) and Level 4: Public Works Leadership Fellow (PWLF).
All four levels of the DCS credentialing program have unique admission requirements. Walter applied for Level 2: Public Works Manager Program, which required:
- Successful completion of the DCS’ s Level 1 Public Works Supervisor program, or
- 8 years of experience working within public works and an associate’s degree, or
- 5 years of experience working within public works and a bachelor’s degree.
After completing the application process and being accepted into the program, Walter began to fulfill the initial program requirements. A pre-assessment test was required, which is administered to all participants to evaluate the individual’s current body of knowledge and to act as a benchmark for student learning outcomes at the end of the program. This tool that allows both the student and the program to gauge the success of the individual and the program.
After completing the pre-assessment test, Walter was given the opportunity to choose a mentor who would help him throughout accreditation process. One of the highlights of any DCS program is the pairing of every student with a seasoned professional in APWA’s database of APWA Public Works Leadership Fellows. The intent of the mentor is to offer valuable insight, support, encouragement, and inspiration throughout the designation process. The selected mentor had experience related to Walter’s streets and water utility background.
After selection, the mentor advised Walter in three key areas. First was establishing goals for him to complete his continued education. Secondly, his mentor could suggest project topics for the capstone effort (where the mentee uses skills, background, and knowledge in a real-world application), which were in line with future goals of both Walter and the Department. Walter could speak with his mentor via email, phone, and video-based conferencing biweekly to start, and then weekly throughout the entire 18 months of his designation process. Third was to mentor and guide in Walter’ educational efforts with practical applications.
Another requirement within the Level 2: Public Works Manager designation is the completion of a program from a PWS- or PWM-approved institute. Walter selected distance learning at Iowa State. Some APWA chapters have programs meeting this requirement within their Public Works Institute to accomplish this goal. The Iowa state program was completed over the course of 10 months with 14 courses covering a broad range of topics such as “Supervisory Technique Skills,” to “Leadership Skills,” to “Community Service/Customer Orientation Skills,” and more.
Throughout his education process, Walter documented and shared his progress with his Department, his mentor, and the DCS program. In a culmination of his learning experience, Walter could take his expanded knowledge base, which he used to create a thesis for his capstone project. This consisted of an examination of actual data from the Town of Windsor to provide insight to the Town’s Public Works Department with a focus on water distribution planning linked to budget.
Looking to answer the question, “Can the Town of Windsor plan their water distribution system effort using work plans, performance measures, and standard operating procedures that will efficiently integrate in the planning of the next year’s Public Works budget?”, Walter set to work. The activities along with budgetary needs of water sampling, fire hydrant flushing, water valve exercising, water shutoffs, and pump station weekly checks were examined for his thesis. He completed a literature review of other resources for planning and budgeting these tasks and then created an analysis of inventory, service levels, crew configuration, and productivity, which resulted in performance work plans. In addition, by using benchmarks and literature review documentation, Walter prepared standard operating procedures and developed a performance budget. In addition, as part of his development and implementing the program for the completion of his designation, he gained experience in preparing Request for Proposals, Standard Operating Procedures, and Cost Analysis Spreadsheets. As side benefits, he developed relationships, learned valuable information pertinent to his field, gained experience in developing reports and giving presentations, and through it all, could demonstrate his commitment to management.
In finalizing the project, several final steps had to occur. First, a complete post-assessment test had to be taken to compare against the initial tests taken. Walter’s score in the initial pre-program was 58; post-score was 91 — a major improvement! Next, all work, including the capstone paper, had to be submitted for the DCS committees to evaluate. The documentation received comments from committee members, which had to be addressed and then resubmitted. Upon two review cycles, the capstone was approved and the credential given.
The culmination of the effort was a 21-page capstone paper that outlined how a performance budget can be compiled from work plans using asset inventories, desired service levels, and productivity estimates. Then with these basic work steps, knowing the resources used, and methods, the actual plan can be established in detail and can then be implemented. The water distribution effort is a pilot that shows just how the Town’s Public Works Department can prepare a budget for all activities. The work plans can be used to justify work and resources needed for the city decision-makers during the budget process. The SOPs in the appendix provide the detail guidance to implement the work that is planned. This effort can be used to explain how the Town can plan their budget needs, as well as give training tools to all staff to understand how work is planned and linked to an actual budget.
What Agencies Can Expect
An individual’s pursuit of a DCS program designation should be thought of as a joint effort between employee and agency with the support of an outside professional mentor. It should be noted that agencies should allocate time for the completion of program requirements to ensure the individuals success. Open communication by all parties throughout the process is key. Updates from the individual to management keep all parties informed and help to monitor results. Walter, for instance, met with his supervisor often as well as communicated on a biweekly basis with his mentor. These conversations benefited both the agency and the individual.
Consequently, Walter could take this feedback into consideration throughout the process, better ensuring his opportunity for future internal advancement. While the process required an investment of time and energy from the Department, the benefits of promoting a valued, longtime employee with a desired skill set and knowledgebase far surpassed the effort required. In addition, the product produced provides a guide for budget linking work to dollars and provides a tool for training other employees.
This case demonstrates that the process enables the following capabilities, among others:
- Strengthen job skills for employees’ current job or in preparation for career advancement.
- Provide the tools and information needed to grow and optimize the very best out of participants.
- Demonstrate and clarify public works knowledge and forecasts future capabilities in the profession.
- Provide a tool for agencies to validate and compare public works experience and competence among employees.
- Bolster resumes, document background, and fill any gaps in either formal education or job experience of the agency employees.
- Develop professional relationships and growth through the DCS Center’s network of mentors and peers.
- Help agency and citizens through enhancing employee work skills to implement best leadership and best management principles.
The employee had many positive results from this effort. With Walter, he gained knowledge and valuable skills with the support of his Public Works Director and with the help of his APWA PW Leadership Fellow Mentor. Throughout the process, Walter received ongoing support to pursue a designation, and thus the Department could promote a hardworking and valued member of their staff.
In communicating with his mentor and his superiors, Walter could identify how he could best apply his classes, presentations, and other aspects of his designation program to his real-world work experience and goals. His thesis and the reports completed within the program held real-world value for his Department. Regardless of your level of formal education or past work experience, these programs offer all public works professionals opportunities to grow, develop, refine, or renew their knowledgebase and skillset.
Thus, after completion of the program, Walter was acknowledged by the Town Council and local newspaper as well as at the APWA annual meeting in Phoenix. And the net result? Walter was promoted to Supervisor of Utilities after completion of his designation.
The DCS is a program that allows agencies to produce next-level managers and leaders from inside their ranks, and provides employees a way to move up even if they do not have an extensive educational background. The example of Walter’s success working with the DPW with a previously unknown mentor along with the established DCS program shows how an agency can develop a cadre of capable managers and leaders without having to go outside into the marketplace and search with only a hope of finding the right person. Finally, this program is a tool that enables public works departments to meet the leadership challenges left by changing markets and lack of available qualified candidates by developing their own staff.
Terry Walker can be reached at (970) 674-5416 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Charwon Walter can be reached at 970-674-5402 or email@example.com; Harry Lorick can be reached at (310) 374-5777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.