Help Wanted

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – April 12, 2012 – Comment

I’m not a big fan of country music, but there are some songs that I like.  One song that’s on my “favorite list” is Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.  The song talks about the disappointments that come with a life out on the range.

Maybe we need a song about life at a water treatment plant, like “Mamas (and Daddies) encourage your children to grow up to be water treatment plant operators!”  I can see a definite Grammy in the future!

Seriously, we’ll know when we’ve properly valued water when fathers and mothers tell their children, “do something important with your life, work in the water industry!”  After all, there are few people who have more influence over the health and safety of a community than the water treatment plant operator.  For example, a bad doctor or dentist will surely affect the health of the clients under his or her immediate care.  A water treatment plant manager or operator can impact the well being of the entire community.  I only need to point to examples of waterborne outbreaks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Walkerton, Ontario where problems with the water treatment plant operation made thousands of people sick and some even died!

There are many challenges facing U.S. and global water supply systems in the coming years due to a confluence of factors, from climate change, to shifts in population centers, to aging water infrastructure. These challenges are very serious, but they also point to the fact that water will be an increasingly prized commodity, and people with expertise in the field of water supply and treatment will be increasingly in demand.  It is estimated that in the next 10 years about 50% of the people working in the water industry will retire (me included – hopefully!).  For young people looking for a meaningful career choice, I encourage them to consider a job in the water field.

The expertise required to operate a water company comes in many forms and one need not be a scientist or an engineer to enter the field (though there will be a shortage of qualified scientists and engineers in the coming years).  A look at a sample listing of job titles within American Water today is instructive. Just a short list shows that we employ:

  • Accountants, to handle payroll, accounts payable, financial statements, bond issues and investments.
  • Computer Programmers and Analysts, to develop computer systems for databases, which include customer data, water quality data and water utility data.
  • Customer Service Representatives, to assist with customer billing questions, arrange for service calls, help resolve problems, generate bills and process payments.
  • Engineers, to design the construction of water supply systems.
  • Environmentalists, to help protect water from pollution and waste, and conduct research to improve water operations and develop new technologies related to water treatment.
  • Human Resource Specialists, to handle hiring and training issues, wages, benefits and labor relations.
  • Meter Readers, to install meters, read and record usage.
  • Plant Operators, to operate and monitor the equipment that treats the water.
  • Public Relations Specialists, to provide public education, to get involved with communities and to serve as spokespersons for the utility.
  • Scientists, to collect and analyze water samples and do other research.
  • Utility Personnel, to install, maintain and repair the distribution systems that move the water from the source to the customers.

It’s clear that a variety of skills and interests can lead towards a career in the water industry. American Water offers a number of scholarships and internships for college students in fields such as accounting, business, communications, economics, engineering, finance, human resources, information technology and others. We hire students pursuing degrees at accredited colleges or universities either temporarily for the summer or during the school year.

Our interns can benefit from mentoring, coaching and side-by-side work with knowledgeable and experienced experts in the field. The objective is to offer hands-on work assignments on projects related to the student’s major.  So, raise a glass of tap water to the future of the water industry.  Come on in – the water is fine!