Creating pipelines to future careers

Crossposted from WTD’s Clean Water Stories

Half of King County Wastewater Treatment Division’s valued employees are expected to retire in five years and one of the biggest questions we face is: How will those spots be filled? How can we reach out to the next generation?

We want high school students to be aware of these career opportunities. We host two high school career events in the spring every year and hire 10 high school interns for a summer, and they do some amazing work for us, even if they choose a different career path in the end.

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Wade Phillips engages students in a water quality experiment while he talks about his job as an environmental engineer.

Most people do not realize the variety of jobs, from engineers and financial analysts to electricians that are needed to keep our water clean. This last Saturday, 52 high school students got up early to attend a three-hour Careers in Clean Water event. Students participated in three job-shadowing sessions to explore careers in clean water. Staff lead short, hands-on sessions to demonstrate the details of their job and shared the steps needed to get hired.

 

Those who attended were genuinely there to learn more and asked great questions, some of those questions even prompted staff members to reflect about the division as a whole. Argane, an 11th-grader, posed the question of diversity to Timothy Clark (Water Land Resources Division staff) and respected his honest answer.

“Timothy didn’t sugar coat the issues of diversity. He was open about the fact that his division was majority white and talked about the outreach efforts being done to recruit in communities of color. He was also real about the conflicts in the workplace, dealing both with race and gender,” Argane said.

After attending her job shadow sessions, Argane was encouraged by Samayyah Williams, a civil engineer, and hopes to one day join Engineers Without Borders to build a facility that treats drinking water.

Grace is a 10th-grade student who grew up in the San Juan Islands and had early exposure to water conservation and water quality. She was particularly intrigued with her first session with two wastewater operators (and Poofighters), Darek Kenaston and Alexis Surprenant.

“We had to do a lot of work with pipes and looking into what and how sediment exists in our drinking water,” Grace said. “I talked with Darek and his career journey. The mechanics of dealing with clean water really stood out because it was a close-to-home connection”.

Grace is still curious as to what the day to day work really looks like, but knows that an operator’s job looks very different every day.

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Students have their own go at cutting pipes

The students who attended this event, as well as those who attend the career event coming up on May 5, are encouraged to apply for the Clean Water Ambassadors — High School Internship Program. We are seeking 10 interns interested in learning how government agencies, nonprofit organizations and local communities influence environmental and community health. Interns will gain a deep understanding of the role we all play in this issue, and the careers that contribute to improving water quality and protecting the environment.

 

In the closing remarks for the event, we were lucky to have Haze Lee, a past intern from 2017, as a guest speaker to talk about her first-hand experience and to answer questions from future intern applicants. Haze highlighted the three best things about her internship experience, which were the people (both WTD staff and co-interns), the places, and the opportunities.

Haze, now a junior at North Creek High School, has been busy this school year organizing the school’s first gardening club. She was able to work with school staff to find an area to build the gardens, receive grant funding, as well as using Gro-Co Compost (made with Loop® biosolids)!

Students can join the next career event at South Plant in Renton on May 5, 2018. Find more information and sign up here.

Applications for the Clean Water Ambassador Summer High School internship are now open.

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