Cuyamaca College’s Center for Water Studies will co-host the first annual Military Career Day on Aug. 10 geared toward military personnel and veterans interested in careers in water and wastewater operations.
The free event, co-hosted by regional water agencies and the American Water Works Association, will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cuyamaca College’s Student Center, located at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in El Cajon.
Anyone can attend, and participants are asked to register at CenterForWaterStudies.org. Lunch will be provided.
· Learn how skills and experience gained during military service can match up with career opportunities in the water and wastewater industries.
· Meet with recruiters from water agencies in the region.
· Gather information about industry pay and benefits.
· Get advice on career pathways.
· Learn about fast-track educational opportunities offered by the Center for Water Studies, which provides specialized training in water and wastewater operations.
Among those expected to attend are representatives from regional water agencies and Mark Balmert, CEO of the San Diego Military Advisory Council and a retired Real Admiral in the Navy. Balmer’s organization fosters connections between the military, elected and appointed officials, and the region’s business community.
Cuyamaca’s Center for Water Studies, the oldest and most comprehensive water/wastewater technology program in the California Community Colleges system, actively recruits veterans through its Warriors2WaterWorks campaign for training in numerous certificate programs.
“We work very, very closely with the water and wastewater industries to anticipate what their needs are and to make sure that we add people in the pipeline who have the skills and the certifications they need to be effective,” said Don Jones, a retired water industry professional and former college instructor and administrator at the Center for Water Studies who conduct outreach. “We are always right at the cutting edge and work in partnership with the water agencies to make sure that the programs that we offer build the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they need in their workforce.”
Careers in the water and wastewater industries are a great match for veterans because they are mission-driven, technical, and focused on providing critical public services, said Jose Martinez, General Manager of the Otay Water District in Spring Valley and a former Navy officer. “Just like the military, we have structure, we all have a bunch of different disciplines, and we all work together.”
The industries are also hungry for well-trained individuals. Today, they face a “silver tsunami” of impending retirements and need new talent. A recent survey found an 8-9% turn-over rate among the 4,500 full-time positions in the water management industry in San Diego County due to retirements. That translates into about 380 open jobs per year.
The state Legislature has recognized the special skills that veterans can offer, and in 2019 passed Assembly Bill 1588, which provides a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.
Veterans can turbo-charge their careers by obtaining specific training and expertise at Cuyamaca’s Center for Water Studies.
The Center offers a comprehensive curriculum that, beginning this fall, will include seven specializations. Completing courses in a specialization prepares students to take a state-required certification exam for that specialization. The newest specialization is advanced water treatment. The new curriculum will be closely aligned with the skills and expertise needed in programs such as “Pure Water San Diego” – a phased, multi-year program that aims to provide 40% of San Diego’s water supply locally by the end of 2035.
Other specializations offered are Water Treatment Plant Operations, Backflow & Cross-Connection Control, Water Resources Management, Water Distribution Operations, Wastewater Treatment Operations, and Wastewater Collection Systems.
The Center for Water Studies traces its roots in our region to 1960 and moved to Cuyamaca College in 2003. The center is housed on campus in a building with two classrooms, a laboratory, and a shop.
The Center for Water Studies focuses on preparing people for mid-skill career pathways – in other words, careers that require more than a high school diploma but less than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. These kinds of jobs represent about 60% of the region’s 4,500 jobs in the industry. Entry-level jobs pay about $50,000 to $55,000 annually, and positions in the industry often come with a generous package of benefits including medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as a retirement benefit from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Anne Solano, Human Resources Manager for the Helix Water District in La Mesa, said her district relies on the professional training that the Center for Water Studies offers. Graduates who she has hired “definitely have an understanding of water and the actual distribution system, and how it’s all put together,” Solano said. Helix encourages employees to continue their education by taking classes at Cuyamaca and pursuing higher certification levels.
Martinez, from Otay Water District, said careers in the water and wastewater industries allow veterans to continue serving their country “on a more localized, community level. … here, you’re serving your community.”
Many people may take their water and wastewater system for granted – until it’s not working. Providing clean drinking water and safely processing wastewater “very rarely gets the attention, so you have a group of people who are doing it not for glory (but) … because they’re committed to the mission,” Martinez said.