I am currently at the Florida Section of AWWA’s annual conference. One of the discussion items has been the need to increase the number of people attending the conference (and conferences in general), and in particular, the number of young people attending. Most of the people attending conferences are older management personnel, who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience. However budget constraints is a constant issue that limits attendance by younger personnel. This lack of expenses ties with the lack of understanding of the benefits that these get togethers can have.
Conferences mimic civilization. The reason should be obvious. As civilization has growth, the advancements in our technology, means and methods have occurred in cities where many people can gather in one place, meet, discuss issues, and arrive at solutions based on others experience, something that cannot be done in rural areas. Conferences are intended to achieve a similar goal as – bring people with common interests and problems together to discus their issues and find new ideas to improve service delivery. As a result, there are three basic things that happen at these conferences: talking to vendors who have products that might help the utility or meet certain needs, sitting in on technical sessions, and talking with other utility and engineering personnel that about common problems. All have great potential for ideas to help utilities. A good discussion can yield a solution or idea that can solve an ongoing issue. How others approach the problem may shed light on how your utility can accomplish this. What we need to do is make officials in charge of budgets understand that the savings of just one good idea can easily exceed the cost of attendance.
Unfortunately the germination and growth of these ideas is rarely conveyed to the officials who have control of the budget or attributed to attendance at conferences. Conveying this data is a form of marketing the benefits of learning new things that we often miss. Same issue with civil engineers who do not do a good job conveying to the public what they accomplish (and I am one). Most civil engineering projects are simply taken for granted, especially water and sewer projects. We need to do a better job of marketing these benefits. The movement of the industry forward relies on it.