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Ismael Hernandez-Skillbridge-military

SkillBridge Interns Explore Career Opportunities After Military Service 

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. 

Ismael Hernandez is interning at the San Diego County Water Authority as part of the Skillbridge Program. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“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, whichconnects 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.  

Shengliang “Justin” Jin is an intern with in the San Diego County Water Authority Finance Department. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

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.  

Career-Otay Water District-Faces of the Water Industry

Learn About Water Industry Career Opportunities From the Pros

Looking for a challenging and satisfying career? Current and aspiring professionals can learn about water industry career opportunities through the San Diego County Water Authority’s “Faces of the Water Industry” social media outreach campaign in October. 

The campaign, inspired by ACWA’s California Water Professionals Appreciation Week, highlights the San Diego region’s water and wastewater professionals and the essential work that they do to provide safe and reliable water supplies for 3.3 million people and a $253 billion economy. 

Water Industry Pros Share Their Stories

The Faces of the Water Industry campaign features the stories of 21 water industry professionals through a series of social media posts and videos. Beginning October 1, follow the Water Authority on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to read inspiring stories from the region’s water and wastewater pros.

Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician 

Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician, City of Escondido

“Growing up near the ocean, water always played an influential part in my life,” said Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician at the City of Escondido. “I always knew I wanted to work with water but wasn’t sure how until I was surfing with a close friend one day. He mentioned a nearby community college offered classes focused on water distribution. I decided to take a leap and try it out. The classes were appealing to me. Therefore I began a career in water distribution. Water is one of our most valuable resources, and I’m happy to protect it for the future. I find gratification in protecting the City’s water infrastructure.”

Laura York, Laboratory Analyst 

Laura York, Laboratory Analyst, Otay Water District

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is that it contributes to society. Water is a vital resource that all life depends on for survival,” said Laura York, Laboratory Analyst at Otay Water District. “As a lab analyst, I monitor water quality and protect public health by ensuring the water meets regulatory requirements and is safe for drinking. Working in the industry also provides lifelong learning opportunities as there are continuous challenges and the accompanying need for innovation and improvement.”

Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field) 

Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field), Sweetwater Authority

“I was inspired to work for a water agency because I knew that the work I would be performing on a daily basis would have an immediate impact on our customers and that the service that we provide is vital to everyday life,” said Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field) at Sweetwater Authority. “In addition, I knew that working for the Authority would not only bring me satisfaction but also help me and my family have a bright future.”

Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II 

Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II, San Diego County Water Authority

“Working in the water industry is very rewarding,” said Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II at the San Diego County Water Authority. “In the water industry I have had the opportunity to see and grow so much of San Diego. The people and the innovation that goes into providing water is fulfilling. Building infrastructure to ensure that the people around me can live, work and play is a passion of mine. I take pride knowing that I help provide water to the country. I look forward to continuingly growing in my career in the water industry.”

Upcoming Water Industry Career Webinars

The water and wastewater industry offers vast opportunities for essential careers in engineering, operations, finance, public affairs, human resources, administration and information technology. 

The Water Authority and California Water Environmental Association (CWEA) is hosting free career webinars for new and current water professionals. 

For job openings, internships and education opportunities across the San Diego region’s water and wastewater industry, go to sandiegowaterworks.org.

(Editor’s note: The Otay Water District, Sweetwater Authority, and the City of Escondido, are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Water Authority Taps SkillBridge Program for Talented Veterans

Aug. 3, 2021 – The San Diego County Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. The regional initiative is off to a fast start with two SkillBridge interns starting their civilian careers at the Water Authority this summer.

Water Authority Taps SkillBridge Program for Talented Veterans

The San Diego County Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. The regional initiative is off to a fast start with two SkillBridge interns starting their civilian careers at the Water Authority this summer.

Gerald Moore-SkillBridge Program-Water Jobs

Water Authority Taps SkillBridge Program for Talented Veterans

The San Diego County Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. The regional initiative is off to a fast start with two SkillBridge interns starting their civilian careers at the Water Authority this summer.

The Water Authority joined the federal program in June 2020, as part of an effort by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to meet the growing need for skilled water industry workers.

‘Silver tsunami’ of retirements in water industry

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.

SkillBridge Program interns served in Navy

The Water Authority’s Operations & Maintenance Department recently welcomed two SkillBridge interns, Gerald Moore and Jamaal Benjamin, who each bring more than 15 years of experience in the Navy.

“We have seen the skills and aptitudes they learned in the military directly transfer to their work at the Water Authority,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “At a time when a wave of retirements is impacting the water industry, the SkillBridge Program is an important way to meet our need for skilled workers.”

The Water Authority is benefitting from Moore’s background in operating and maintaining computer systems.

“The Water Authority is all about teamwork and service, and they’ve welcomed me to their team with open arms,” said Moore. “This is a new phase of my career and life. I’m excited to find out where this journey will take me.”

SkillBridge Program-Jamaal Benjamin-Military Veterans-Water Industry Jobs

“Having an opportunity to tap my military training and background in a civilian context is an ideal way to increase my career options in the water and wastewater industry,” said Jamaal Benjamin. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Benjamin is using his knowledge and experience working with complex electrical, electromechanical, and electrohydraulic systems to help maintain and repair critical water facilities.

“Having an opportunity to tap my military training and background in a civilian context is an ideal way to increase my career options in the water and wastewater industry,” said Benjamin.

Helping military veterans find jobs

A regional work group is implementing strategies to increase skilled workers for the water industry, with a focus on helping military veterans find jobs. Many of the Water Authority’s member agencies have also expressed interest in the SkillBridge Program.

“This is a unique opportunity to access a huge talent pool that can help us ensure the San Diego region will have the workforce to fill mission critical positions in the water industry,” said Christopher McKinney, chair of the regional work group and the director of utilities/assistant city manager for the City of Escondido.

Other regional efforts to help military veterans include state legislation co-sponsored by the Water Authority and Otay Water District that, when implemented, would provide a future avenue for veterans to receive credit for their military education and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in California.

Water industry job website

In addition, the San Diego County Water Authority maintains SanDiegoWaterWorks.org to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date list of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location, along with other information for veterans about career paths and internships.

SkillBridge Program

The Department of Defense created the SkillBridge Program in 2011 to give service members an opportunity to gain real-world training and work experience during their last 180 days of active service by interning at a civilian employer. The cost to partnering employers is minimal; employers pay no wages or benefits as service members continue to receive active duty pay and benefits during their internship.

For more information about regional job opportunities and training programs in the region’s water and wastewater industry go to: www.sandiegowaterworks.org/

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.

Vallecitos Water District waterwater technicians Matt Wiess and Chris Deering at the Meadowlark Water Reclamation Facility. Photo: Vallecitos Water District employees

Water and Wastewater Scholarship Opportunities Available at National University

The new Waterworks Management Concentration in the Bachelor of Public Administration, offered by National University in partnership with Cuyamaca College, begins its second cohort of courses in August. Two new scholarship opportunities are now available to help prospective students overcome financial barriers and reach new career goals.

Developed in collaboration with regional employers, and driven by the rapidly growing demands for skilled career professionals in the water and wastewater industry, the Bachelor of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Waterworks Management, or BPA degree, allows graduates of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies to transfer directly into National University bachelor’s program after earning their associate’s degree. Transfer scholarships are also available to graduates of other California community colleges.

Scholarship opportunities include:

  • The Opportunity Scholarship, which extends financial assistance to adult learned who are Pell Grant recipients
  • The Fast Track Scholarship, a merit-based award designed to help students complete their degree program by offering a free class for every three classes completed within six months, up to a 25% savings in tuition fees
  • The ADT Scholarship for CA CC Transfer Students

Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of Community College Pathways at National University, holds free live information webinars for prospective students every other Thursday. The next one is scheduled at 5 p.m. on May 20. Registration is free and open to anyone interested in the program. All courses in the program are taught online.

“While you are working from home, you now have digital access to a waterworks management education that can transform your career trajectory,” said Dr. Allen.

Demand for skilled professionals

Water and wastewater professionals like the Olivenhain Municipal Water District 4S Ranch Wastewater Treatment plant employees are moving toward retirement with not enough replacements available. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Water and wastewater professionals like the Olivenhain Municipal Water District 4S Ranch Wastewater Treatment plant employees are moving toward retirement with not enough replacements available. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

The water and wastewater industry’s rapidly growing demand for highly skilled professionals shows no signs of slowing in the coming years. Impending retirements will create a need to fill 12,000 to 20,000 water and wastewater jobs throughout California in the near future. Many of the positions require a bachelor’s degree such as the National University BPA degree.

The degree 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.

The insight and recommendations of regional employers coordinated by the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College and the San Diego County Water Authority, make the academic pathway possible.

Positive student reviews

The National University Bachelor of Public Administration degree program is taught in a convenient online format. Photo: Vanessa Garcia

The National University Bachelor of Public Administration degree program is taught in a convenient online format. Photo: Vanessa Garcia

Students from the first group completing the four-course concentration give the program positive feedback.

“I had a great experience in Waterworks Management in California,” said Clinton Swanger. “The class enlightened me to fact that there are different ways to view this subject. I feel as if I have a better understanding of how water management works and what to expect in the future.”

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.

Degree program well suited for military veterans  

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. Photo: Courtesy GCCCD

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. Photo: Courtesy GCCCD

National University offers all BPA courses online. 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.

Students earning the Bachelor of Public Administration degree will complete National University’s four-course concentration of upper-division courses studying:

  • Water and waterworks management in CA
  • California Waterworks Law & Compliance,
  • Human Resources & Labor Relations
  • Leadership in Water Management

Students can begin the BPA program at any time.

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.

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.

San Diego Water Works Website Offers One-Stop Shop for Water Industry Jobs

October 1, 2020 – The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have launched a new website – SanDiegoWaterWorks.org – that provides the first comprehensive posting of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location. As the San Diego economy begins recovering from recession, the site features expanded job opportunities and regularly updated information about internships and training opportunities – a true one-stop-shop for anyone interested in a new career or a new role in the water industry.