The APWA CEO discusses upcoming projects, IIJA funding, the significance of recognizing public works professionals as first responders and the upcoming Public Works Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina.
American Infrastructure: What is the American Public Works Association (APWA) and its importance?
Scott Grayson: APWA is the only association of its kind with over 30,000 members, 63 chapters and 97 branches throughout North America. APWA provides an extensive amount of continuing education for those working in public works and infrastructure. Additionally, we provide certifications for, not only technical skills, but professional and managerial skills. APWA has a widely recognized accreditation program for public works agencies. This program allows agencies to document business processes for continuous improvement and capture years of knowledge that could be lost as long-time employees retire.
APWA is engaged in advocacy in both the United States and Canada. Our areas of interest include water resiliency, surface transportation policy and funding and emergency management with a focus on critical infrastructure. APWA played an important role in the passage of the IIJA law and was invited to participate in the signing ceremony at the White House on November 15, 2021.
We are a “one-stop” shopping organization and are continuing to expand globally.
AI: New Hampshire recently passed a law recognizing public works professionals as first responders. What does that mean to you?
SG: It is a significant response to an omission in local, state and federal government law and we are pleased New Hampshire is now the second state in 12 years to recognize public works professionals as first responders.
In 2003, President Bush recognized public works professionals as first responders in Homeland Security Presidential Directive-8-National Preparedness:
“The term ‘‘first responder’’ refers to those individuals, who in the early stages of an incident, are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence and the environment, including emergency response providers as defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101), as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response and recovery operations.”
APWA members have been at the forefront of efforts to win legal recognition as first responders. They know – and experience – the demands of being first on a scene and often the last ones out. They continued to work during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.
Even before the shutdown, however, APWA’s board of directors approved the adoption of a national “Public Works First Responder” symbol in 2017.
AI: Are there any public works initiatives you feel should be widespread?
SG: Like Mississippi, New Hampshire and the federal government, APWA believes every state and every local government should mirror their actions and recognize public works professionals as first responders just as they mostly do for fire, police, emergency responders and medical professionals.
Additionally, we are diligently working for the successful implementation of IIJA over its five-year life to ensure increased funding to local governments is realized as Congress intends through the law. APWA will continue to push for flexibility at the local level as those are the officials who know their communities best.
APWA successfully advocated for the inclusion of water workforce language within IIJA, which resulted in public works agencies becoming eligible for the Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program. While this was a great first step in the right direction, it is only just the beginning of the process.
APWA is proud of its education and credentialing initiatives, and we are working to expand these into other workforce development areas to address the needs of a shortage.
AI: What are some upcoming projects APWA is excited to share?
SG: APWA is excited to continue highlighting our best in education and credentialing through the Focus on Public Works series. The series highlights a new technical area each month, featuring expert-led online education, trending technologies, resources, networking and more opportunities. We are also excited about the following upcoming projects:
- Benchmarking Survey – APWA’s Leadership and Management Committee is currently working on a benchmarking tool for agencies to easily access and find data from comparable communities on public works resources (budget, staffing, services, etc.).
- Emerging Leaders Academy (ELA) – Starting with the 2023-2024 program year, APWA’s popular Emerging Leaders Academy (ELA) will expand from 16 participants to 32 allowing more candidates to be accepted into the program. We are currently selecting and training additional instructors for the program.
- Asset Management Road Map 2.0 – APWA’s Asset Management Committee will be working on enhancements to the recently released Asset Management Road Map. The Road Map is designed to help agencies that want to create an asset management plan and assist in the asset management journey.
- Certified Public Fleet Professional (CPFP) Exam – An updated exam will be released in 2022 for the CPFP program. To ensure the exam reflects the critical competencies necessary for today’s public fleet manager, APWA has conducted a Job Task Analysis, Item Writing Workshop, and Congruency Review over the past year.
AI: What are some goals APWA has for the latter half of 2022?
SG: APWA continues to expand its Big Cities/Counties Forum both in the U.S. and Canada. This group consists of public works directors from cities, counties and regions in the U.S. and Canada with populations over 500,000. The groups meet to share best practices and serve as resources to mid-size and smaller cities, counties and regions. The forum addresses issues of workforce shortages, homelessness or unhoused, training and education for the future and leadership. APWA plans to expand this group throughout the world.
APWA is currently talking to the Embassy of Ukraine, USAID and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to provide assistance in rebuilding cities as people return to liberated cities in Ukraine. The current needs are temporary housing, clean water, wastewater and power restoration.
Additionally, the APWA Board of Directors approved the establishment of the APWA Foundation which is a separate non-profit organization established to help enhance current programs in the areas of: Public Works Education, International Education, Advancement of Young Professional in Public Works and Infrastructure, and Public Awareness Campaigns for Public Works.
AI: What can people expect at this year’s Public Works Expo (PWX)?
SG: APWA is thrilled to bring the Public Works Expo (PWX) to Charlotte, North Carolina on August 28-31, 2022! After a few years of uncertainty, with respect to in-person events and conferences, due to COVID, we feel that there is a great deal of excitement and support from our APWA members, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors in the runup to PWX 2022 in the Queen City.
APWA’s goal with every conference is to bring public works professionals together to learn from engaging speakers during our more than 150+ educational sessions that address current issues; to meet with our extensive group of exhibitors, spread out across nearly 80,000 square feet, who are ready to showcase the latest and greatest when it comes to products, services and technologies specific to public works; and to network with peers and share common experiences.
Public works professionals from all leadership levels will convene in Charlotte to learn from experts and each other. No matter what area of public works their focus lies (Career & Personal Development, Construction Management, Emergency Management, Engineering & Technology, Environment/Sustainability, Facilities, Fleet Services, Management, Parks & Grounds, Snow & Ice, Solid Waste, Stormwater/Flood Control, Streets/Roads/Bridges, Traffic Engineering, Utilities/Right-of-Way or Water & Wastewater), PWX is ready to deliver the training and knowledge needed so they can implement new strategies, processes and projects in their own communities to help advance the quality of life for those in their communities.
AI: Are there any additional comments or details you’d like to mention?
SG: APWA was instrumental in the recent passage of the IIJA, infrastructure funding law. This is a historic time for those working in public works and infrastructure. This is an opportunity that may only come once. APWA is doing everything it can to work with our members and partners to assist in rebuilding America’s infrastructure. We are aware that there is currently a workforce shortage as well as issues with the supply chain. We are working together to try to solve these challenges. We will address these issues during our upcoming annual meeting and expo, PWX. This meeting will be held August 28-31, 2022 in Charlotte, NC. Come join us!