Call to Action for Public Works
By Lawrence Hummel, P.E. – Engineer Manager – Van Buren County Road Commission
I hope that everyone has had a very productive summer and the opportunity to enjoy what Michigan has to offer. Beyond the beautiful natural features such as the water, the beaches, the forests, and the hillsides, what about those trips don’t you recall? Do you remember what the water tasted like at the last place you stopped? Do you recall whether or not the curb gutter was swept clean or not? How about the street you traveled down, was it in good repair or full of potholes? Imagine how many other things go unnoticed to even those of us who are the caretakers of all these things. Is it any wonder that people in our communities, those who pay the taxes that pay for that caretaking and also our livelihood, don’t even seem to notice what we do day in and day out – just so they DON’T have to think about any of it!?
Maybe you have heard Dr. Bender at the Michigan Public Service Institute (MPSI) or perhaps got the opportunity to hear Ian Hill at the Annual Conference at Boyne Mountain this year or the National Congress last year in Denver, either one of these well respected individuals has a similar message for us all: “We are to blame for the lack of attention we receive, including the lack of good publicity and also in the lack of attention to the need for funding to best provide those ‘hidden’ services.” When was the last time you shared the results of a job well done at work with someone who is not a co-worker but, instead, a friend, neighbor or community member? The message is clear that we are indeed the masters of our own fate. If we don’t take the time and effort each day to let all of those around us know how important the work we do is, no one else will. More of the same will keep us well below the needed funding, staffing and overall resources we need to be successful.
How can we overcome this dilemma? Become involved, be educated and fight for every ounce of well-deserved respect for the job you do every day. Both hard work and continual education are the keys to your success. Did you attend the Michigan Chapter Annual Conference this year? How about the National Congress? Maybe the Winter Maintenance Operations or the Fleet Maintenance Seminars? What about the Roadeo; did you send a crew to represent your agency? There are many opportunities provided by APWA and its partner Associations, such as County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM), the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners Association (MACDC), the Michigan Municipal League (MML), American Rural Water Association, American Water Works Association and the list goes on. So, have you been to training lately? Nearly every one of these entities offers training opportunities for public works folks just like you and me here in Michigan and some at the national level as well.
I am just back from the APWA National Congress that was held in Anaheim, California. As was expected there was another packed agenda of things to help each attendee go home with a ton of ideas, new knowledge and several new contacts from across the country who are facing similar issues. We had keynote speakers such as Jamie Clark delivering “Above All Else: The Power of Passion” and Simon T. Bailey on “Release Your Brilliance – How to Show Up, Be Accountable, and Drive Results.” Just those two topics could fill many days of training, encouragement and lifelong improvements, both at work and at home as well. They focused on thinking differently from the rest of the masses and viewing your failures as learning experiences. Ever have one of those “I’ll never do that again” moments? I have! When we move forward from a setback, we are stronger in the long run. How about accountability? Ever wish that applied to everyone around you? It certainly should and why not let it start with you? Pick someone whose opinion you respect and who you know will be truthful in their assessment of your actions and ask them to commit to being your accountability partner. Tell them to set you straight when they see you straying off course; don’t get mad, just make the course correction and be better for it. Your lessons learned might very well be among the next sessions at one of those conferences, congresses or seminars.
As I mentioned earlier, sharing with our peers at training sessions is among the best ways to gain knowledge in our world. Just how does your neighboring community get the snow plowed so much more quickly than you do? What about that water main repair that takes you twice as long to handle as the guys in the village next door? Why is it that the streets in the neighboring county appear so much better than those in your own backyard? Has it ever crossed your mind to simply ask how they do it? Share what you know and learn even more along the way. Take every opportunity you get and ask for more from your managers, Boards and Councils. Get the education and training in whatever form it takes and then bring it back and share it with those same folks who approved your attendance at the event. Let them know just exactly what the value of your training was to your community, organization or department. Share how networking with your peers at such seminars and trainings is often just as valuable as the training itself. It is up to you to ask, devote your time and energy in the experience, and then share with all those around you.
As we move forward into the year’s end and the elections approach, the Legislature returns to session and many budgets around the State are being finalized. Where will you be standing? Will you be waiting in the back, letting it happen? Or will you be willing to step forward and be part of the accountability team, making things happen in a new and exciting direction for Public Works?! Make it a point to check out the Michigan Chapter website for opportunities to get involved at Branch, State and National events, and sign up. Your involvement as we move forward into the next year is vital to the Chapter’s success as much as it is to your own personal success and growth. We invite you to reenergize with us. I certainly look forward to seeing many of you in the coming months at these sessions and at the Branch and Executive Board meetings in the near future. Volunteer for a committee and see what a difference you can make!