Don’t just stand there

Martin J. Manning, P.E.
APWA President

Mark Twain’s often-cited adage, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” might well be paraphrased with regards to the public image of the public works profession. We talk a lot about how public works facilities and services are too frequently taken for granted and how public works professionals do not enjoy the prestige of those in certain other professions. Unlike the weather, however, we can do something about it. All of which brings us to National Public Works Week, May 18-24.

NPWW was established 43 years ago for the purpose of spotlighting the role of public works in urban society—giving recognition to outstanding contributions to community life—and attracting talented youth to careers in the profession. In other words, NPWW is intended to rectify a situation we frequently talk about. Through the years NPWW has continued to grow and has made significant progress along the road to our ultimate objective. However, it will only succeed to the extent that individual public works officials participate and encourage NPWW programs.

We have a real story to tell to the public. Hardly a minute of the day goes by without an individual being served by some public works activity. Clean, pure water at the turn of a tap…sanitary disposal of all our wastes…streets to take us to work or school or the store…traffic control systems and streetlights to make them safer…hydrants to protect us from uncontrolled fires. Take any of these facilities or services away and see how quickly the fabric of community life begins to crumble.

But the impact of public works on community life goes even deeper. Industry and commerce could not exist without the water, communication networks, and waste disposal facilities provided by public works. In fact, the quality of public works services is one of the principal selling points in attracting industry into a community—and industry means jobs and tax revenues.

If all the NPWW promotion was only a device to pat ourselves on the back we might just as well forget it. But it is not. The benefits are real and tangible. An informed public is an enlightened public. It has been proven time and again that when people understand a problem and comprehend its seriousness, they will respond favorably to the demands made upon them. A public that understands the public works functions of government is more likely to cooperate whether it involves refuse collection, lawn sprinkling, littering, or you name it.

Not to be overlooked is the all-important aspect of attracting talented youth to the profession. As public works activities become more technologically complex we will require more highly skilled employees and a management team with more advanced levels of education than in the past. We must attract a fair share of the talented youth to careers in public works. NPWW programs are a means to the end.

So don’t just stand there—do something. Contact your local newspaper and radio and television stations about a special program or feature article on public works. Contact the Chamber of Commerce; they can help with features on how public works serves the business community. Go to your local high school; they would probably welcome a talk with students about the public works role in community government, or what a career in public works requires in the way of talent and education. Invite the public to an open house at the water treatment plant or the municipal service center. See if local business won’t sponsor an ad in the local paper. APWA headquarters has a National Public Works Week kit which includes prepared ads—just call 800-848-APWA and ask for one.

NPWW is our chance to tell our story in an organized and meaningful manner. The important thing is to act now.