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Mary Maciel learns good safety practices as part of her summer internship with the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Photo: FPUD Water industry career opportunities

Fallbrook High School Summer Intern Learns About Water Industry Career Opportunities

The Fallbrook Public Utility District’s intern program is designed to prepare potential future employees to fill jobs that open up due to the ‘silver tsunami’ or wave of retirements in the water industry.

Mary Maciel, a junior at Fallbrook High, is Fallbrook Public Utility District’s second paid summer intern. She spends four hours a day each Wednesday working with each department including public affairs, customer service, engineering, construction and maintenance, engineering, water and wastewater operations, and meter reading.

The goal of the internship is to increase interest in FPUD and potentially draw local talent to the district. It is designed to identify career opportunities in the water industry and provide a hands-on learning experience leading to a career with the Fallbrook agency.

Aaron Cook, the district’s senior engineer, was born in De Luz and lived in the area until he went to college. He started his career after college in other cities, but wanted to come back home. He applied for his current  job as soon as he saw the opening. He has been at FPUD for nearly a year.

“It’s definitely an attractive place to work for raising a family,” Cook said.

In the next five to 10 years, FPUD expects a substantial number of employees to retire. And with retirements come job openings.

Growth trend in water industry career opportunities

Student intern Mary Maciel job shadows FPUD Utility Technician II Toby Stoneburner during her summer internship with the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Photo: FPUD Water industry career opportunities

Student intern Mary Maciel job shadows FPUD Utility Technician II Toby Stoneburner during her summer internship. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Maciel says she could see herself working in the water industry in the future.

There are currently 12 FPUD employees eligible for retirement, which is about 18 percent of the district’s workforce. As previously reported on Water News Network, it is an ongoing concern for the agency.

“These are good-paying jobs with good benefits, but you just don’t find a lot of people coming out of school who are interested, and we are struggling to attract skilled employees from the private sector,” said Jack Bebee, Fallbrook PUD general manager.

‘Silver Tsunami’ in water industry

Water News Network reports career opportunities are ample due to an imminent glut of retirements by an aging workforce. Forecasts call for between 1,200 and 1,500 open positions in the next three to four years in San Diego County alone, said Sandy Kerl, the San Diego County Water Authority’s acting general manager.

Forty percent of employees at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District will retire within the next three to five years, said Lisa Sorce, human resources director. Representatives from other utilities presented similar numbers.

READ MORE: Aging Water Workfore Spurs Industry Recruiting Efforts

 

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar's innovative new tool won recognition from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority Sweetwater Authority employee

Award-Winning, Time-Saving Tool Created by Sweetwater Authority Employee

For his initiative in designing and creating a new tool designed to improve safety and efficiency on the job, Sweetwater Authority employee Julio Salazar won the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority  H.R. LaBounty Safety Award.

The award recognized Salazar for creating a ‘Large AMS Stabilizing Tool.’ Salazar’s design resulted in making the process of replacing 1.5 inch and two inch angle meter stops, or AMS, easier, more ergonomic, and safer.

“Our water professionals are industry leaders, finding new ways to work smarter and safer,” said Tish Berge, general manager. “Sweetwater Authority could not be more proud of Julio’s tool and much deserved recognition.”

The H.R. LaBounty Safety Award recognizes water industry employees who implement significant safety improvements to prevent occupational injuries/illness. Winners are recognized twice a year.

See a demonstration of the new award-winning tool.

Salazar, a Utility Worker II with Sweetwater, came up with the idea after talking with co-workers about ways to improve the process. In the past, replacing an AMS often required employees to break out the meter box in order to make enough space to fit large wrenches and tools.

The process was often awkward and difficult, adding strain on the employee who had to remove the AMS at an odd angle. The concrete panel would also need to be replaced, adding to the time, cost, and safety risk associated with the replacement.

The new tool is designed to secure the AMS using meter bolts, and can be placed in-line with the service lateral. Once secured, an employee can simply use an adjustable wrench to loosen or tighten the bottom nut on the AMS. It eliminates the need to break the meter box, and gives the employee a more comfortable, ergonomic grip while working. It also makes the process safer.

Salazar says the design is similar to existing stabilizing tools, but there was nothing quite the right size for the 1.5 inch and 2 inch AMS – until now.

Water industry professionals recognized for safety improvements

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar displays his H.R. LaBounty Safety Award Sweetwater Authority employeerecognition certificate from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar displays his H.R. LaBounty Safety Award recognition certificate from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority – ACWA JPIA for short – is a partnership of water agencies dedicated to avoiding the high cost of commercial insurance. JPIA is a risk-sharing pool for property, liability, workers’ compensation and employee benefits, which allows for more rate stability for customers, broader coverage and expanded benefits and services than private insurance.

READ MORE: Proactive Partnerships Keep Pipelines In Top Shape

 

New Partnership Introduces South Bay Students to Water Industry Career Opportunities

Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District have forged a new partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District to introduce fifth grade students to opportunities and issues in the water and wastewater industry – including compelling career options.

The “Hydro Station” program is designed to address a significant shortage of skilled workers entering these career fields. Water agencies are facing a wave of retirements by Baby Boomer employees and a lack of skilled workers ready to replace them. Professionals surveyed for Water & Wastes Digest’s 2018 State of the Industry Report cited workforce development as one of the most important issues for 2019. Utilities nationwide are developing new ways of reaching students to encourage their participation in the industry.

Locally, more than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. The Chula Vista-based Sweetwater Authority, for example, anticipates a staffing crunch on the horizon. In the next five years, 50 percent of the agency’s workforce will be eligible for retirement.

Agencies restructuring educational outreach programs for 2019

(L to R) Sweetwater Authority Directors José F. Cerda, Steve Castaneda, Josie Calderon-Scott; former Director Ron Morrison; Director Dr. Matthew Tessier, Chula Vista Elementary School District Assistant Superintendent, Innovation and Instruction; and Michael Bruder, Resource Teacher, Innovation and Instruction; Director Hector Martinez; former Director Jess Van Deventer, and Director Jose Preciado receive funding at a December 12, 2018 board meeting. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

(L to R) Sweetwater Authority Directors José F. Cerda, Steve Castaneda, Josie Calderon-Scott; former Director Ron Morrison; Director Dr. Matthew Tessier; Chula Vista Elementary School District Assistant Superintendent, Innovation and Instruction; and Michael Bruder, Resource Teacher, Innovation and Instruction; Director Hector Martinez; former Director Jess Van Deventer; and Director Jose Preciado present program funding at a December 12, 2018 board meeting. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

While Sweetwater and Otay have conducted educational outreach programs since the 1990s, both agencies have experienced cutbacks due to budget constraints and navigated changes in science education standards.

Valuing the importance of education and working with local students, the two agencies are restructuring their educational outreach programs and focusing on partnerships with schools and community groups to reinvent and modernize the programs. The program design fits in with recent recommendations from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program on renewing the water workforce and creating a broader pool of prospective workers.

“We are super excited about our partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and Otay Water District in service to children and their families in our service area,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This program is the first of its kind in our region, and we look forward to making an impact by educating our youth about the wide variety of careers that we have to offer in the water industry.”

Program launches in Spring 2019 with 5,000 fifth grade students

Otay Water District Board members hear a presentation by representatives of the Chula Vista Elementary School District on the new “HydroStation” education partnership. Photo: Otay Water District

The initial “Hydro Station” pilot program will launch in Spring 2019 with approximately 5,000 fifth grade students from the Chula Vista Elementary School District participating in the program annually.

Students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. Students will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options, and hands-on activities will help them make connections to specific careers.

The new Hydro Station is at the Sweetwater Authority’s Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility – an ideal location to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.

The program is funded in part by a grant from the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust. Funds from the trust cover production and distribution costs of educational materials, including field trip journals students will use during their experience at the Hydro Station.