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Vallecitos Water District-water industry careers-veterans-jobs

Vallecitos Employee Encourages Veterans to Work in Water Industry

Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump and Motor Technician Dale Austin is a strong advocate and one-person recruiting program, encouraging military veterans to consider water and wastewater industry careers. As an eighth-generation military veteran with 20 years of service, he successfully transitioned to his current profession and wants to help others do the same.

“Every job in the military can be transferred into a water agency,” said Austin. “I’m a proud veteran. I will support veterans 110% any way I can, any time of the day.

“One of the things I can tell a veteran preparing for a job or seeking a job within this field is be prepared. Prepare yourself. You’re always training for a deployment or another duty assignment. This job is no different.”

Half of all water and wastewater industry employees are expected to retire in the next 15 years. Many of those workers hold essential positions. The value of these essential workers became especially clear due to the pandemic.

Retirement wave creates career opportunities for veterans

In just the next five years, about 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open across the San Diego region. In addition to engineers and plant operators, the industry relies on technicians, accountants, electricians, mechanics, information technology specialists, and many other occupations.

Austin encourages veterans to explore their options through opportunities available for education and training, such as the certificate and degree programs at Cuyamaca College and Palomar College.

“Seek out volunteer programs. Seek out tours. Call a water agency. There are programs there. Take full advantage of those,” said Austin. “Go to job fairs. Read job postings, even if you don’t know what kind of job you may qualify for.”

Water and wastewater industry jobs allow veterans to continue serving their community by providing safe, sanitary water and ensuring public health and safety. Careers are stable with good salaries and benefits. Water and wastewater professionals serve in communities and agencies of all sizes.

“I want to do the best for the ratepayers. I really take pride in that.  I think the military instilled that in me. It’s a team environment here. It’s like a military coalition. I love working with my team. I believe the military helped me achieve that,” said Austin.

Vets receive credit for military experience and education

Skills acquired from military service translate well to water and wastewater industry jobs. Photo: Vallecitos Water District Encourages Veterans

Skills acquired from military service translate well to water and wastewater industry jobs. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

San Diego area veterans can learn about career opportunities at a dedicated web portal for veterans, SanDiegoWaterWorks.org.  New laws in California supported by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer credit for military education and experience when applying for industry jobs.

Austin especially encourages women veterans to consider water industry careers. “I work with great women leaders here [Vallecitos Water District]. Your career choices are endless. You’re focused on doing well. As a veteran, you have a hand up,” said Austin.

Austin said his 11 years working at the Vallecitos Water District feels like working in a military environment in positive ways.

“We take care of each other. Everyone helps everyone else. I love the sense of accomplishment and the sense of satisfaction of doing a job well,” said Austin. “A lot of our jobs are unrecognized by the public. You turn your tap on, you flush your toilet. Everything works. I get a sense of satisfaction with my group knowing we did a job well.”

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Women In Water Symposium Flows With The Change

This year’s Women in Water Symposium conference theme “Flow With The Change” is fitting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event is online with a new virtual format. The online format generated just as much enthusiasm from participants as prior in-person meetings. And, the virtual conference also meant people from throughout the United States could Zoom in too.

 

The 4th Women In Water Symposium discussed the career landscape for women due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Screen Capture, Women in Water Symposium

Women In Water Symposium Flows With The Change

This year’s Women in Water Symposium conference theme “Flow With The Change” is fitting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event is online with a new virtual format. The online format generated just as much enthusiasm from participants as prior in-person meetings. And, the virtual conference also meant people from throughout the United States could Zoom in, too.

A record 230 registrants signed up to attend live sessions covering a variety of career development topics.

Three specific career level tracks are offered to address needs at each level: entry-level for those new to water careers; mid-career for those transitioning and advancing within the industry; and upper level for senior professionals looking to leave a legacy.

Symposium highlights career opportunities

The symposium features three weekly half-day virtual formats.

Between 80 and 90 people attended the first four sessions on March 4. Topics included building a sustainable career in the water and wastewater industry; a panel discussion on public and private water industry career choices; and dealing with change and uncertainty.

Presenter flows with the change in format

“I actually participated in this symposium three years ago,” said Debbie Kaye, one of the conference presenters. “It was really fun, and it was just great energy in the room, so I’m trying to capture that energy through the little boxes on the screen,” said Kaye, president and CEO of V&A Consulting Engineers.

This is the fourth year of the conference, which started with a welcoming message from Cuyamaca College President Dr. Julianna Barnes. The college hosted the three previous symposiums.

“There’s just so many opportunities,” said Kaye. “The water industry is so welcoming. I think the thing that binds us together, we’re serving a higher purpose. We’re all supporting our families doing what we’re doing, but we’re serving a higher purpose protecting public health and protecting the environment.”

San Diego County Water Authority manager encourages women professionals

Gretchen Paniol of the Water Authority delivered a presentation on dealing with change. Photo: Screen Capture, Women In Water Symposium

Gretchen Spaniol with the San Diego County Water Authority delivered a presentation on dealing with change. She used a photo of herself at age 12 from a going-away party. “As a kid, I moved every two years, so I thought I was good at change, now it’s much harder,” Spaniol said in her presentation.  Photo: screen capture/Women In Water Symposium

San Diego County Water Authority Human Resources Special Projects Manager Gretchen Spaniol noted the pandemic year has disproportionately affected women in the workplace. “That was me at my going away party. I moved every two years as a kid, so I thought I was good at change. Now it’s harder.

“In December 2020, the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs, and all of those were held by women,” said Spaniol. “It’s being called the female recession, or the ‘she-cession.’ Female unemployment reached double digits for the first time since 1948.”

Flow with the change in work life

Spaniol says changes such as working from home bring on stress, and stress can bleed into all aspects of work life. She encouraged attendees to network and support each other.

“Women in water, this is a great opportunity for additional networking,” said Spaniol. “I can guarantee you someone has been through what you’ve been going through, or has been dealing with something similar. It’s great to talk to others to really get that life experience. This is a great opportunity inside and outside your agency. We have such a great industry in San Diego County.”

She also praised the value of mentorships for women in the water industry.

Upcoming sessions include discussions on the evolution of the work environment due to COVID-19, negotiation skills, receiving feedback, and the use of social media.

Registration is still open for upcoming sessions. For additional information, contact Vanessa Murrell, Cuyamaca College, Center for Water Studies:

The conference was organized by a volunteer group, the “Women in Water Committee,” chaired by Galit Ryan, Firm Principal at Peterson Structural Engineers in San Diego.

Scholarship Applications Open for Aspiring Water Pros

If you’re a student considering college studies leading to a career in the water and wastewater industry, several California water associations and San Diego regional member water agencies offer college scholarships. Scholarships are available for community college, college, and graduate-level programs

Scholarship applications-water industry jobs-water careers

Scholarship Applications Open for Aspiring Water Pros 

If you’re a student considering college studies leading to a career in the water and wastewater industry, several California water associations and San Diego regional member water agencies offer college scholarships.

Scholarships are available for community college, college, and graduate-level programs. Here are a few of the funding opportunities for study in the 2021-2022 academic school year.

Statewide water scholarships

Approximately 1,400 water and waster industry jobs will become available in San Diego County in the next five years. Photo: Water Authority scholarship application

Approximately 1,400 water and waster industry jobs will become available in San Diego County in the next five years. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The Water Environment Federation’s Canham Graduate Studies scholarship provides $25,000 for a post-baccalaureate student in the water environment field. The scholarship is for education-related expenses such as room and board, tuition, and books. The scholarship may not be used to cover stipends or wages.

The applicant must be a WEF member, complete an online application, and be enrolled in a graduate program. Recipients must commit to working in the water industry for two years following graduation.

Deadline: March 1, 2021. WEF Scholarship Application Link

The California Water Environment Association is offering $30,000 in scholarships this year to students pursuing a career in the clean water profession. The deadline to apply for the CWEA Kirt Brooks Scholarship program is Feb. 15.

The Association of California Water Agencies offers a $3,500 scholarship to qualified applicants attending a University of California or California State University school pursuing an undergraduate degree in a water-resources related field such as engineering, agriculture, environmental studies, or public administration. The applicant must be a junior or senior attending full-time during the 2021-2022 school year.  Criteria include scholastic achievement and motivation to the vocation of water-resources management.

Deadline: March 1, 2021. ACWA UC and CSU Scholarships Application Link

The California-Nevada section of the American Water Works Association awards more than $20,000 in scholarships supporting students and professionals pursuing careers in a drinking water-related field. Two $5,000 graduate scholarships and four $2,500 undergraduate scholarships are available. Two additional $1,000 scholarships fund training as a drinking water treatment/distribution operator in trade or community college programs.

Suitable candidates include environmental and civil engineers; water, wastewater, and recycling treatment plant operators; distribution system operators; chemists; laboratory technicians; biologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists; and others whose roles support safe and reliable drinking water.

Deadline: March 15, 2021 AWWA Scholarship Application Link

 

Eight local scholarships are available from two member water agencies for students in the North County and East County. Photo: Water Authority

Up to eight local scholarships are available from two member water agencies for students in the North County and East County. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

San Diego regional water scholarships

The Helix Water District offers two $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who will begin their university studies next fall. Applications are due April 1 for the Dr. Lillian M. Childs Scholarship and the Robert D. Friedgen Scholarship, which provide help with freshman year expenses. The scholarship committee reviews each applicant’s grades, extracurricular activities, volunteer and work experience, academic and career goals, and financial need.

High school seniors must graduate in Spring 2021 and attend a four-year college or university next fall. Applicants must live in Helix’s service area, including the cities of Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and El Cajon, the community of Spring Valley, and unincorporated areas of the county.

Deadline: April 1, 2021. Helix Water District High School Students Scholarship Application Link

The Vista Irrigation District offers up to six scholarships to high school students living or attending school within the district. Awards range from $1,000 to $3,000. The purpose of the scholarship program is to encourage students to learn more about water-related issues impacting their community. Students who compete for a scholarship must complete an essay and provide a personal statement related to their background and/or goals. Selection criteria also include community involvement or volunteer service and letters of recommendation from high school faculty.

Deadline: April 5, 2021. Vista Irrigation District High School Students Scholarship Application Link.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of experienced employees reaching retirement age. With approximately 1,400 water and wastewater jobs expected to open up across San Diego County in the next five years due to retirements, water industry careers offer promising lifelong professional opportunities. For more information, visit sandiegowaterworks.org

City of Escondido Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Carrie Selby is among a growing number of women working in water and wastewater industry careers. Photo: City of Escondido

Women in Water Symposium

The fourth annual Women in Water Symposium in March will be online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously hosted at Cuyamaca College, symposium sessions will be each Thursday starting March 2. This year’s conference theme is “Flow With The Change.”

Three specific career level tracks are offered to address needs at each level: entry-level for those new to water careers; mid-career for those transitioning and advancing within the industry; and upper level, for senior professionals looking to leave a legacy.

Session topics include negotiation skills; diversity, equity, and inclusion; dealing with change; the impact of COVID-19; and building a sustainable career. Program elements for all tracks are designed to create a larger community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

The symposium is an opportunity for students, water industry professionals, and people exploring careers in the water and wastewater industry, to make connections.

“The Women in Water Symposium made it possible for me, as a young graduate student, to meet experienced, female engineers at any moment, from breakfast to sessions and everything in between,” said Alma Rocha, a San Diego State University graduate student studying environmental engineering.

“I got to meet so many amazing people and help them out with referrals to jobs and events that might help their career, ” said Alec Mackie with the California Water Environmental Association. “A very rewarding event.”

Vanessa Murrell, Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges grant manager, said the conference is open to anyone, and this year is not limited by location by being held in a virtual environment.

Nurturing the next generation of water professionals

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series at Cuyamaca College. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series sponsored by Cuyamaca College. This year’s symposium will take place online. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the “Silver Tsunami” of experienced employees reaching retirement age. The task force reports approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region. More than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024. Water and wastewater treatment plant operators in California earn an annual average wage of more than $72,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registration is $25 and free to students. Attendees only need to register once for all symposium sessions. Participants can attend any session from all three tracks. Register here.

New Regional Degree Program Responds to Water and Wastewater Workforce Needs

Driven by the rapidly growing demands for skilled career professionals in the water and wastewater industry, National University and Cuyamaca College will launch a new degree pathway program starting in February 2021.

Developed in collaboration with regional employers, the new Bachelor of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Waterworks Management provides a seamless pathway for graduates of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies to transfer into the bachelor’s program after earning their associate’s degree. Transfers are also available to graduates of other community colleges.

National University's new four-year degree program will help water and wastewater employees advance in their careers. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources,

New Regional Degree Program Responds to Water and Wastewater Workforce Needs

Driven by the rapidly growing demands for skilled career professionals in the water and wastewater industry, National University and Cuyamaca College will launch a new degree pathway program starting in February 2021.

Developed in collaboration with regional employers, the new Bachelor of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Waterworks Management provides a seamless pathway for graduates of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies to transfer into the bachelor’s program after earning their associate’s degree. Transfers are also available to graduates of other community colleges.

“Responding to regional workforce needs, National University and Cuyamaca College are excited to roll out the Waterworks Management academic pathway, informed by industry leaders,” said Dr. Sara Kelly, academic program director at National University. Transfer scholarships are available for qualifying students.

Transfer program reduces completion time, cost

The new degree program will build capacity to train the waste and wastewater workforce of the future. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources

The new degree program will build capacity to train the waste and wastewater workforce of the future. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources

The new collaboration allows students to complete both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree while reducing the time and cost. Student support services at both institutions help foster a seamless process for students to transfer from Cuyamaca College to National University.

“Working collaboratively with National University, we can help our region and state respond to the need for skilled and educated water and wastewater professionals,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes. “We know that with impending retirements in the industry, there will be a need for 12,000 to 20,000 water and wastewater professionals throughout the state in coming years.”

As current seasoned leaders retire, water and wastewater agencies struggle to fill job vacancies requiring a focused bachelor’s degree. Students earning the new degree will complete National University’s four-course concentration of upper-division courses studying water and waterworks management and leadership, water law and compliance, and human resources and labor law.

Graduates will be able to address the issues and challenges facing water and wastewater agencies at the state, regional, and local levels, including governing requirements and regulatory compliance while employing water management best practices.

Courses taught by water industry professionals

The new collaboration between National University and Cuyamaca College also welcomes Cuyamaca alumni into the program. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

The new collaboration between National University and Cuyamaca College also welcomes Cuyamaca alumni into the program. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of Community College Pathways at National University, said the curriculum was constructed based on the insight and recommendation of regional employers, coordinated by Cuyamaca College and the San Diego County Water Authority.

“There was a need for highly trained leadership in this industry,” said Allen. “This program provides a bachelor’s solution to train the management and leadership in the specific leadership areas needed in addition to the Associate’s degree in this field. Cuyamaca College has a solid program for the technical side and the frontline workers. Our new program is the next step in preparing the leaders of tomorrow for waterworks management.”

The program took more than a year to develop. Qualified water industry professionals from the Water Authority, regional member agencies, and consulting experts will teach courses.

“There is phenomenal talent in connection with this program, from around the world and not just San Diego,” said Kelly.

Cuyamaca College’s innovative Center for Water Studies program is the oldest and most comprehensive of its kind in the California community college system. It prepares students for careers at water agencies as technicians, mechanics, electricians, engineers, plant operators, information technology specialists, and more. Program alumni are eligible for the National University program.

Degree program launches in February 2021

National University offers all courses online, starting with the first cohort of students in the program in February 2021. Administrators plan to eventually offer onsite and hybrid courses involving the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies field operations skills yard for hands-on experience.

As a veteran-founded, private nonprofit institution, National University is dedicated to serving service members, veterans, and their families. This new BPA waterworks concentration is particularly well suited for veterans using their GI benefits to further their education. Veterans are eligible to apply their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.

“There are so many different pathways in life,” said Allen. “Whether you’re 18, whether you’re older. You’ve got family, children, and deployments. We’re going to put you on the right pathway to help you reach your final destination in your career.”

BPA program information is available on the National University website.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sam Pacheco is one of 15 Helix Water District employees who are military veterans. Photo: Water Authority Veterans Day

Veterans Day Salute to San Diego Water Industry Vets

Many of the San Diego region’s 4,500 water and wastewater workers are military veterans. The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies are recognizing those veteran water industry professionals this week in honor of Veterans Day.

One of those water industry employees with a military background is Sam Pacheco, a field service representative with the Helix Water District. Pacheco served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. He ended his career at MCAS Miramar in Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting, as an on-base firefighter. Along with Veterans Day, Pacheco is celebrating the 245th birthday of the Marine Corps (November 10).

Public service a tradition

“When I got to serve in the military, I got to serve the folks of this country,” said Pacheco. “Now that I work for the Helix Water District, I do the same thing, serving the people of the community. It’s as gratifying. When I think about serving the public on a different level, I still get to do it now for Helix.”

Helix Water District has 15 military veterans on its staff. Board President Mark Gracyk served as an enlisted engineer in the U.S. Army, and Division 1 Director Dan McMillan served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a company commander in the California National Guard.

Water and wastewater careers draw on military experience

Veteran Sam Pacheco said he gets a second opportunity to serve his community in his job with the Helix Water District. Photo: Water Authority

Veteran Sam Pacheco said he gets a second opportunity to serve his community in his job with the Helix Water District. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

When Pacheco retired from the Marine Corps in 2011, he worked in the heating and air conditioning industry.

“I started working at Lake Jennings part-time,” said Pacheco. “A meter reader job became available and I thought, “‘I like exercise, I like being outside all day, that sounds like a job for me.”’

He became a full-time employee in March 2018.

Military to civilian employment

Pacheco said it is common for veterans to struggle to find civilian employment and it was true for him.

“This was the biggest transition going from the military to civilian employment, finding someone just as professional as the military,” he said. “Helix runs a very professional outfit. The caliber of people at the District, the work tempo, the expectations, the standards expected. I couldn’t have gotten luckier. It’s a big blessing for me.”

Pacheco appreciates the organization and high standards for water industry employees.

“When you come from something like the Marine Corps for 20 years, you are used to having all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” he said. “The way Helix takes care of business and runs the district, for me I don’t ever have to worry ‘has someone taken care of this or thought about it?’ I’m really impressed.”

Credit for military experience

The San Diego County Water Authority has co-sponsored state legislation in recent years to create and expedite career pathways and encourage veterans to consider careers within the water industry after serving their country. An effort by the Water Authority and its member agencies helped pass legislation that gives credit to veterans for their military experience when transitioning to the water and wastewater industry.

Signed into law in 2019, Assembly Bill 1588 requires the State of California recognize the experience and education veterans acquire while they are in the military for its operator certification program for water and wastewater treatment plants and water distribution systems.

Ornamental Horticulture Groundbreaking Cultivates Career Opportunities

With the turn of 11 gleaming shovels, groundbreaking took place on August 22 for a $16.7 million project to renovate and improve indoor and outdoor classrooms and facilities for Cuyamaca College’s Ornamental Horticulture program. Thousands of students have graduated from the program since its launch in 1980. Many have gone on to careers in landscape design and sustainable landscaping, irrigation technology and turf management. The renovation will allow the program to provide a hands-on training experience reflecting current industry standards. “We are a career technical education discipline and we strive to help students get jobs, so it is very important that we are able to replicate what’s currently used in industry,” said Leah Rottke, program coordinator for the horticulture program.