The San Diego County Water Authority is providing training opportunities to military veterans looking for new careers in public service as part of the SkillBridge Program. The program is helping military veterans transition to career-track training opportunities, including work in the water and wastewater industry.
Transitioning out of the military from a foreign county and coming back to the states is not an easy task, said Ismael Hernandez. In the case of Hernandez, now finishing his service in the Marine Corps, this involved finding new connections upon returning, leaving behind the military mindset of consistency in day-to-day life and figuring out his future career.
“I was lucky enough to have SkillBridge, but for other [military] members it’s not as easy,” Hernandez said.
The Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. Skillbridge interns continue to be paid their military salary and benefits. The program was developed by the federal government to provide experience and future career opportunities to military members as they transition to civilian life.
Skillbridge Program a “win-win” for service members and employers
Since joining the federal program in June 2020, the Water Authority has had four SkillBridge interns working in various departments. The program is a win-win for both employers and the transitioning military member – the military servicemember can work fulltime in a participating agency for the last 180 days of their active duty gaining valuable civilian work experience, and the employer gains early access to the extensive experience, skills, and unmatched work ethos service members bring to the workforce, all at no cost.
Hernandez heard about the program from a few of his fellow service members who saw the work he was doing and recommended he look into the program to prepare himself for the future.
“To set yourself up right after the military is very beneficial because the trend for many military members is to not get help at all or have bad living situations and I didn’t want that for myself,” said Hernandez.
Valuable experience for future career
Shengliang “Justin” Jin, is also a SkillBridge intern finishing his contract with the Navy. Like Hernandez, he is also working to prepare himself for his future after he leaves military service. SkillBridge is providing him the opportunity to gain experience in the career he wants to pursue.
Interning in the finance department while finishing his associates degree was Jin’s first step in getting his foot in the door. After spending some time in budgeting, Jin will move into the accounting division at the Water Authority. The move is important to Jin because he wants to add a wide breadth of experience to his resume while pursuing his college education.
“I will be finished with my associates by the end of this year and plan on getting into a university by next fall,” said Jin.
Hands-on work for military vet
Currently, Hernandez is gaining experience in heavy equipment operations, vegetation management, and other duties related to construction. Hernandez said his intern experience in construction or electrical work is exactly what he hopes to be doing in the future.
“I’m more of a hands-on person and I want to learn these trades,” said Hernandez.
The hands-on work Hernandez has done so far has included working on pipelines, grading roads, as well as laying down cement and wires. While it’s different from the rigid schedule of the same day-to-day tasks Hernandez experienced in the military, he sees this as a learning experience and opportunity for his professional growth.
Hernandez said his goal is to turn his SkillBridge internship into a job and career at the Water Authority.
“If military members believe that they can do it, that they can make something happen, they make it happen,” Hernandez said. “It’s challenging, but at the end of the day you have to keep pushing through and have that mindset and you’ll make it happen.”
Water and wastewater industry job opportunities
The opportunities for both transitioning servicemembers and local water agencies are significant. More than 30,000 service members separate from the military each year in California, and more than half are transitioning out of active duty in the San Diego region.
Roughly half of the current water industry workforce in the San Diego region will be eligible to retire in the next 15 years – and approximately 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open in the region in the next five years.