Challenges in Recruitment and Selection: Steven Arbaugh Case Study

Once you have read the case study, write a 3-4 page paper (although feel free to write more if you want) that addresses the following questions. Be sure your paper fully explains your ideas, using points from the case study, as well as the required readings (and/or other appropriate sources). Papers should be double-spaced, with 12-point font, and 1” margins.

  • Explain the main challenges of recruitment and selection faced by Steven Arbaugh and explain how those challenges can be overcome. (Be sure to take into account that Mr. Arbaugh’s organization is a public sector entity.)

  • Identify and explain specific (and practical) recommendations that would enhance Mr. Arbaugh’s ability to attract candidates from ethnically and culturally diverse populations.
  • Explain what type of strategic human resources plan could be developed by Steven Arbaugh to meet the challenges faced by his organization.

Your Case Study Analysis paper does not need to be in the form of an essay — it is recommended that you list each topic/question and provide your analysis. However, citations within the text must be in either APA or MLA format and you need to provide a References (APA) or Works Cited (MLA) page.

This case study is an abridged version of:
“The Case of the Vanishing Workforce,” by David E. McNabb, Linda K. Gibson, and Bruce W. Finnie, which is published in Public Performance & Management Review, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Mar., 2006), pp. 358-368.

“The Case of the Vanishing Workforce” (Abridged)

Steven Arbaugh, managing director of the city’s electric utility, put aside the book he had been reading and sat back in his chair. The opening statement struck a sympathetic chord with him: “You’d have to have been living on the moon not to know that huge numbers of the Baby Boom generation will be retiring in the next 5 to 10 years” (DeLong, 2004, p. 3). And they will be taking decades of irreplaceable knowledge and experience with them when they go.

More to the point, Arbaugh did not know where he was going to find the new electrical engineers and skilled linemen and other workers needed to replace those who would be retiring. Some of his existing positions had been open for several years; no qualified applicants were available. Just a small part of the experience and knowledge loss about which he was increasingly concerned included historical knowledge of the evolutionary development of the utility and its diverse power generation, transmission, and distribution systems; the physical plant and systems as built and modified over time; systems engineering knowledge; how to deal with suppliers and customers; and critical troubleshooting skills (Gross, Hanes, & Ayres, 2002). Not only was City Power losing workers with critical skills and first line supervisors, many of the utility’s managers would be retiring soon. He had just read an article in Power magazine that described the growing crisis as consisting of two parts: (a) Not only are skilled workers departing in greater numbers, (b) but also utilities must recruit replacement workers from a declining pool of qualified personnel.

To deal with this potential human resource time bomb, utilities must design new and novel ways to retain their existing human capital long enough to find or train the next generation of workers. In a worst-case scenario, he was worried that City Power might find itself in the same position as the Sacramento, California, municipal utility, where as many as half of the utility’s employees will be eligible for retirement over the next 5 to 10 years (O’Donnell, 2004). Adding insult to injury, Arbaugh knew that after 30 years with the utility, he was eligible to retire himself and would be doing so in a few years. Who would replace him and all the other senior managers of his generation? In the meantime, how was he supposed to keep the utility meeting its mandate to serve the public if he couldn’t keep men and women on the payroll? If he couldn’t find qualified replacements, where was he going to get the money to train new ones? Even more crucial, how could City Power entice young people of diverse ethnic groups and cultures into choosing a career in the utility industry? No local universities or colleges were training people to enter the power industry.

City Power, a municipally owned electric utility in the Pacific Northwest, generates, transmits, and distributes electricity and provides energy and

telecommunications services to residential, industrial, and commercial customers in a rapidly growing market. City Power is one of three divisions of City Public Utilities and is governed by a five-member Public Utility Board appointed by the city council. City Power was created in 1893 when citizens voted to buy the privately owned Light & Water Company. Citizens believed then that public ownership and local control would give them a higher caliber of services as well as the ability to control those services. The decision paved the way for City Power to build one of the most reliable municipal electric systems in the country.

In 2005, City Power served nearly 154,000 customers, the largest proportion of whom were residential customers. Nearly 86,000 of City Power’s customers resided inside the city limits and 68,000 lived outside the city. The two largest commercial customers were nearby military bases. As manager of the utility, Arbaugh believed that one of his greatest responsibilities was to keep the public believing in the viability of the city’s utility and of publicly owned utilities in general.

Arbaugh knew that the problem was not just a local labor shortage. While attending the 2004 Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in Washington, D.C., he heard Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael 0. Leavitt cite a report from the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which stated that between 2005 and 2010, 25 million people will leave the U.S. workforce. Every business, every nonprofit organization, and every public agency will be affected in some way by the changing workforce picture. Not only are workers about to retire at an accelerated pace, the lower birth rates of the Baby Boom generation mean that far fewer people will be available to replace the departing workers.

According to Administrator Leavitt (Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies [AMWA], 2004a), public budget restrictions mean that public utilities will be particularly hard hit. The problem gets more complex given the overall shrinking labor pool and given low visibility of public utilities as an employment option to the emerging workforce. Public utilities will face fierce competition as they compete for the best, highly skilled applicants. According to one public utility trade association (American Water Works Association Foundation [AWWA], 2005), many publicly and investor-owned electric, gas, water, and sewer utilities are beginning to feel the effects of knowledge attrition. This attrition is created primarily by the retirement of Baby Boomers and the failure of programs designed to retain, recruit, and train replacement personnel. A study financed by the AMWA in 2004, “The Changing Workforce: Crisis and Opportunity,” recommended a five-step checklist approach for building the new generation of public utilities (AMWA, 2004b). The action steps in this check list for utility managers are:

* Developing a knowledge retention plan
* Creating an environment that facilitates development of a learning organization
* Developing and implementing plans for leadership development, management succession, and training and development
* Developing and implementing a plan for budgeting and securing political support for the huge investments in human capital that would be needed

* A communication plan that keeps all stakeholders in the loop.

Operational knowledge in a public utility is widely dispersed and is contained in many forms and repositories. Most of an organization’s knowledge is contained in the expertise and experience of the members of the organization. When those members leave and are not replaced, the organization fails (Choo, 1998). In a public power utility, that knowledge is what shapes the quality of the capabilities and skills needed to produce, distribute, and ensure the safety of electricity products that are critical for the functioning of modern society. The benefits from identifying a body of successful knowledge retention applications and strategies are explained in a research proposal issued by the AWWA:

The loss of veteran workers may result in a loss of a significant amount of knowledge regarding working processes and lessons learned that will affect organizations. In response, organizations are searching for ways to capture, index, store, and share the tacit and explicit knowledge held by their employees before it is lost. Capturing the knowledge will enable their successors to quickly and efficiently retrieve it, when and where it is needed . . . identifying critical success factors and establishing a strategy for … knowledge retention within a … utility will ensure that the business continuity, overall performance, and customer satisfaction are maintained at high levels, while minimizing the impact of workforce attrition. (AWWA, 2005, p. 2)


American Water Works Association Foundation. (2005). Request for research proposals. Denver, CO. Accessed from

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. (2004). EPA Administrator Leavitt, DHS Infrastructure Protection Chief Liscouski highlight AMWA 2004 legislative and regulatory conference. Federal Water Review (January-February). Accessed from

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. (2004b). The changing workforce: Crisis and opportunity. The Water Utility Executive (January-February). Accessed from

Choo, C.W (1998). The knowing organization. New York: Oxford University Press. DeLong, D.W. (2004). Lost knowledge: Confronting the threat of an aging workforce.

New York: Oxford University Press.

Gross, M.M., Hanes, L.F., & Ayres, TJ. (2002, September). Capturing undocumented worker-job-knowledge at electric utilities: The EPRI Strategic Project. Proceedings of the 2002 IEEE Seventh Conference on Human Factors and Power Plants, Scottsdale, AZ.

O’Donnell, A. (2004). Brain drain: Our graying utilities. EnergyBiz Magazine, November/ December. Accessed from nov_dec/Drain%20Drain_nov-dec-7/pdf.

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