Succession Planning in Tempe

Jennifer L. Adams, LCSW

Deputy Public Works Manager

City of Tempe, Arizona

Chair, APWA Women in Public Works Subcommittee

The Public Works Department of Tempe, Arizona has developed a workable succession plan for increasing diversity. Why is succession planning important for all of us? The Conference Board, a business research group, estimates that by 2010, 64 million workers—or 40 percent of the nation’s public and private workforce—will have reached retirement age. Our government agencies will especially be greatly affected by the rise in retirements. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government reported, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2002, that 46 percent of government workers were 45 or older compared to 31.2 percent of workers in the private sector. Given the fact that out of 27,014 APWA members only 2,672 are women, there is much opportunity to transform the public works population by increasing the percentage of women among the workforce.

So, what steps would be required to draw upon this untapped workforce as we work to fill this anticipated gap? Some of the procedures we used in assessing our goals in Tempe included:

First Step: Recognition and Support by Management. The City of Tempe, Arizona, Public Works Department has recently recognized the need to recruit more women and minorities. Management clearly recognized and supported the fact that succession planning needed to become a high priority and that we had a tremendous opportunity to transform the face of Public Works, greatly increasing our diversity. In addition to diversification, we grasped the importance of providing potential financial benefits to women of lower socioeconomic status. We feel compelled to provide a higher earning capacity for women, given the fact that 28.4 percent or one-third of all the female head-of-household population live below the poverty level according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Second Step: Organize. As a result of this recognition, an ethnically dynamic and diverse recruitment team was created, intentionally named “ROC” as an acronym for Recruitment Outreach Committee. The ROC’s mission statement is “To encourage, promote and provide networking and employment opportunities to increase diversity in the Tempe Public Works Department.” This committee was also designed to undertake the challenging task of expanding our outreach efforts, thereby increasing our chances for recruiting women and minorities.

Third Step: Research. What were women looking for when it came to employment needs? We found that women often have different career motivators than men have. Additionally, we found that women’s top five priorities, ranked in order of importance, were the following: 1) enjoying their work; 2) having a pleasant working environment; 3) contributing or making a difference in their world; 4) earning a good income; and 5) valuing flexibility. We developed our recruitment strategies accordingly.

Fourth Step: Budget. We established a budget for outreach. The creation of the budget demonstrated management’s commitment to increasing diversity among employees. It also afforded us the opportunity to participate in career fairs with women employees who staffed the booths and fielded questions. A poster board display was created which represented employees from each division. Contact sheets were made available to be completed by interested applicants; we gave away promotional items with our Public Works address and phone number; and the most important handout was a benefits brochure which stressed our enjoyable and flexible work environment.

Fifth Step: Define Next Generation. Through our awareness of the need to recruit the next generation of professionals, we reached out to our local university and community colleges. Along with attending their career fairs we also posted our current job vacancies on their message boards. With this outreach, we became cognizant of the need to offer internships with our neighbors at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. Our first intern from ASU has been charged with the task of spearheading our recruitment efforts. She brings new, innovative ideas to the table and encourages growth within the Department. She has been able to connect with the women and student generation in a positive and effective manner. Communicating and networking with the college groups is a natural fit for her as she frequently interacts with her peers. She, too, benefits greatly from the experience and receives University credits at the same time. It was important to also be mindful that our outreach efforts be not only limited to educational arenas, but also inclusive of far-reaching partnerships.

Sixth Step: Military Partnerships. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, women in the military comprise almost 15 percent of the total active force of approximately one million three hundred thousand men and women. The military naturally seemed to be an area of interest for recruiting females, as the women transitioning from the military life are often well-trained in heavy equipment operation and are used to working in a predominantly male environment. This greatly increases the pool for non-traditional field employees. As a result, we established partnerships with local military bases and held job fairs for military employees. In addition, we plan to attend transition workshops to further educate women who are concluding their military service. It was our experience that Tempe Public Works has been the only municipality that has attended such military job fairs, which have typically been attended by police and fire recruiters.

Seventh Step: Recruiting for the Future. Our committee has been aggressively assessing the number of employees in Public Works who have served our city for twenty years or more. We have recognized the need to prepare for succession planning, as these workers will typically choose to retire, at their own discretion, within the next 5 to 10 years. We have outlined particular career paths within Public Works and are setting the stage for those who may be interested in filling the vacancies created by such retirements. In order to effectively manage this anticipated turnover, we are evaluating a course of action which will provide our next generation of employees with educational opportunities, leadership training, and mentoring in order that they might be prepared to step into the shoes of our retirees.

This is an exciting time to be involved in public works and particularly to be instruments for change as we face the attrition associated with the retirement of the Baby Boomers. The seven steps we have outlined above are tools the City of Tempe is using to transport our workforce into the future. We are determined to promote diversity, to increase earning potential, and to introduce alternatives for women, who might otherwise choose to work in more traditional occupations. Our roadmap encouraged us to promote diversity and search for innovative solutions. We aspire to continue to reach out to the untapped resources and to provide better opportunities for the entire workforce as the future unfolds.

Jennifer L. Adams, LCSW, can be reached at (480) 350-8835 or

Captions for photos:

The Tempe City Hall complex, which houses the Public Works Administration offices, where our ROC meetings are held.

Christine Warren, our Senior Civil Engineer in Transportation, welcoming career fair attendees at South Mountain Community College.

Depicted are Jessica Williams (left), our intern who is spearheading ROC, and Rosie Ault, our Administrative Assistant, who are both pursuing their undergraduate degrees at ASU. They are taking advantage of the generous educational benefits the City of Tempe offers.

APWA Diversity Statement:

“The American Public Works Association recognizes, appreciates and fosters the synergy, which is created when the work environment values the differences in individuals and practices inclusiveness and open communication.”

The APWA Diversity Committee works diligently to help its members create inclusiveness within their work environment. If you would like to contact any of the Diversity Committee members, they welcome you to do so.

Cora Jackson-Fossett, Chair,, (213) 978-0319

Sonya Bohannon,, (601) 960-1193

Philip (Flip) Bombardier,, (704) 866-6763

Agustin (Augie) Chang,, (858) 576-9200

Gary S. Downing, P.E.,, (941) 861-0878

Glenn Kephart,, (480) 350-8371

Kim Presnell,, (850) 892-8500

Diane Linderman, P.E., Board Liaison,, (804) 343-7100

Kaye Sullivan, Staff Liaison,, (816) 595-5233