May 10, 2010
10 minutes with Beth Kang
BETH KANG is executive director of the California-Nevada Section of AWWA. CA-NV AWWA is a leader in developing drinking water industry guidelines, standards, procedures, professional training and certification programs for the water industry. Most recently, Beth and CA-NV AWWA have been working to implement the “Water Sector Compentency Model,” an effort by AWWA and WEF to promote careers in the water sector. The BC Water News team talked to Beth about the changing face of the industry, and the challenges ahead for the next generation of water professionals.
Name: Beth Kang
Title: Executive Director, California-Nevada Section of AWWA
Background: Beth has been with CA-NV AWWA since 2006. Before that, she was director of Environmental Programs for Rural Community Assistance Corporation, where she was responsible for an 11-state training and technical assistance program for small water and wastewater utilities. For more than five years, Beth also owned a consulting practice, providing training, development and facilitation for federal, state, tribal and local governments.
Beth began her work in the water industry working in the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions, focusing on utility management, groundwater and source water protection. She is the author of several U.S. EPA publications on outreach, financial management for small utilities and capacity development. Early in her career, Beth taught at Kansas University and Bowling Green State University. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas State University.
In her volunteer work with AWWA, Beth was a member of the Technical and Education Council and Economics Technical Advisory Group. She also chaired the Small Water Systems Guidance Committee and served on the Op Flow editorial board. Beth and husband, Chris, make their home in Sacramento.
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AWWA recently launched the “Water Sector Competency Model” with WEF. Tell us a bit about this collaborative effort.
Beth Kang: This initiative is really a foundation of workforce development for our industry. The Water Sector Competency Model was developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to define the knowledge, skills and abilities for prospective water professionals and to encourage careers in the water industry.
The model includes nine core competencies for field staff and operators: (1) personal effectiveness; (2) academic; (3) workplace competencies; (4) industry-wide technical competencies; (5) water sector knowledge; (6) occupation specific knowledge; (7) occupation specific technical knowledge/skills; (8) occupation specific requirements; and (9) management competencies.
In partnership with AWWA and WEF, this model can be a great resource for workforce developers and educators.
What challenges do the next generation of water professionals face?
Kang: I see three major challenges:
Sustaining our water supply. What has happened with our economy is going to have a huge impact on the next generation of water professionals. It will be a challenge to create a vision that embraces the sustainability of our water supply if the economic resources aren’t there.
Identifying new approaches for doing business. Many of the business models that the water industry uses today were built by the generation of “traditionalists” now at retirement age. It will be challenging for new generations of leaders to initiate the type of rapid change our industry needs to embrace if those of us who are “traditionalists” aren’t flexible.
The ongoing integration of technology in providing safe drinking water. Some of the most promising solutions that the water industry needs are second nature to younger leaders. Their resourcefulness and hard work is invaluable because of their accelerated contact and connections with society in real time. Using technology in all aspects of the water industry is an important key to the solutions we need to maintain a competitive workforce.
Have training and education always been your passion?
Kang: I began my career teaching at Kansas State University. While I was in graduate school, I had an assistantship to design training programs for public agencies in communities. I was hooked. Then I went on to teach at Bowling Green State University. Two years later, I found a job that presented unlimited opportunities in training and education. I managed the development of several water systems for some very small, rural communities. This put me on the “front line” of having to communicate technical information to community leaders and the public.
It continues to be exciting for me to provide individuals and organizations with access to information, resources and ideas. I am at my best when I can create connections, partnerships and build relationships. Leading the largest AWWA section offers me the satisfaction of working with people who care passionately about their work. I enjoy helping our members reach their objectives by harnessing the association’s resources to promote, advance and enhance our profession.
What trends do you see in the water industry?
Kang: Of course, water is essential to our everyday lives. It is unlikely that the jobs in the water industry will be outsourced overseas. In a report by TechKNOWLEDGEy Strategic Group, the changing mindset in our country about the environment and energy policy was referenced as the basis for a turning point within the water industry. I believe this is true.
Because of this renewed focused on the environment and water sustainability, there is greater interest in water. At the same time, the industry is facing a set of complicated problems with respect to water quality, water supply and a deteriorating infrastructure. It is essential for our industry to gain the attention of the investment community and educate them about the importance of the various roles that water plays in health, industry, politics, and our economy.
How has the recession affected the AWWA section?
Kang: Much of what we do is about professional development and training. Our members’ travel and training budgets have been cut. The section is taking steps to adapt and reshape our approach: using technology and innovation to create access to information, resources and training for our members. We are in the midst of working with the section leadership to use our strategic plan to shift our business model. This requires a well-conceived vision for what we want the section to become and achieve based on our core ideology.
What could the federal government do to help the California-Nevada section or the water utility sector as a whole?
Kang: The federal government needs to keep working with our industry to make sure that affordability and practical solutions are factored into the framework for regulating safe drinking water.
If you could change one thing about the water utility business, what would it be?
Kang: This is a good question. We are great at talking to ourselves. Honestly, the water industry is one of the best-kept secrets in our country. This has to be one of the most dynamic and important businesses in society. But how many people actually know it?
I would like to see us do a much better job of branding and promoting our work, our contributions and our successes to the public. That is one reason the AWWA section recently produced a new video, “In the Trenches,” showcasing the people who work in the water industry.
What’s the most significant project you’ve been involved with?
Kang: When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created the Environmental Financial Advisory Board, I was appointed as one the founding members by the EPA administrator. My appointment to EFAB afforded me the privilege to serve as co-chair at a federal hearing on small water systems with U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
What’s the one thing you can’t live without at work?
Kang: My iPhone! I cannot function without it. However, if you ask the AWWA staff, it would be Diet Coke, both with caffeine and caffeine-free!