Few departments are as multifaceted as public works, tackling a large swathe of jobs that often go under-appreciated by the general public until something goes wrong — such as a water main breaking. Which is a shame, especially since life as we know it can’t proceed without the efforts of this one department. Public works employees are hardworking and often extremely creative, finding unconventional solutions that work while adhering to tight budgets. They will also — at least in the case of Illinois’ Algonquin Public Works Department — take the time to rescue ducklings and other wayward critters from drainpipes and other places they don’t belong.
Fittingly, the American Public Works Association leads a National Public Works Week — 2019’s was May 19-25 — to ensure these employees’ efforts don’t go unnoticed. Searching for #NPWW on various social media platforms unveils a cornucopia of tales told throughout the week, introducing residents to little unknown facts about their local public works departments or the faces behind them.
From Eagan, Minn., spotlighting its public works team’s efforts in lake mapping to Wilson, N.C., sharing its airport — a part of the city’s transportation office — actually falls under its public works division. Sweet treats were also had during numerous events or even while public works workers were on the job, with one recycling pickup crew in Gilbert, Ariz., receiving homemade cookies from an appreciative young man.
Other municipalities — like Sandusky, Ohio — ran profiles of some of its public works staff members on Facebook, sharing quotes, years of service, challenges at work and little facts about their position, which include gems like finding the city manager’s secret candy stash to standing in a grave.
The week likely opened residents eyes to the variety of work completed by public works employees and maybe even encouraged a few to pursue a career in public works themselves. The more interested, the merrier, especially since a good economy finds many municipalities facing a shortage of qualified public works employees.
Writer Barb Sieminski is addressing this issue, which is cropping up nationwide, though no empirical data is readily available to confirm a widespread shortage. Still, she spoke with APWA Executive Director Scott Grayson on the matter and the importance of taking advantage of training and certifications to avoid skills and knowledge gaps. Additionally, she interviewed a couple of cities in regards to department vacancies and how they are being addressed.
Other public works related stories include how cities are combatting fats, oil and grease in their sewer lines; adding recycled plastics into roadways; an award-winning project out of Washington, which saved a road and several cabins from erosion; and a city that is using hot steam in its weed killing strategy.
National Public Works Week may be over, but it’s never too late nor too often to thank public works employees for all they do.
To all of our readers, happy Fourth of July!