While The Iron Is Hot?

One positive side to a still-slow economy is that it builds a compelling case for water careers. Maybe it’s time to bring that front and center.

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Water system managers and superintendents often tell how concerned they are about recruiting a new generation to the profession. The concern is well placed, as many utility operation leaders and experienced operators are pushing retirement age. The industry is in danger of losing, in fairly short order, a large number of highly skilled people and a great deal of institutional memory.

Here’s one case where perhaps the state of the economy can help, and I’ve spoken to a few people in the industry who already realize it. There are jobs in water treatment and distribution. The field’s importance is growing. The salaries and benefits are attractive. The education requirements are not extreme. And — best of all — the jobs are secure. They can’t be shipped overseas.

Tried before

The water industry would not be the first to try luring younger people with promises of employment in tough times. The military services used to do it at high volume. Who doesn’t recall the campaign: Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. It’s a great place to start.

The water sector may not offer the variety and glamour that the armed forces do, but what’s to keep the industry from enticing young people — and for that matter older and more experienced people — with the promise of good, interesting, well-compensated jobs that won’t go away with the next bursting economic bubble?

Jobs in the field also offer room for advancement and the flexibility to pick up and move to different parts of the country. Moving around isn’t for everybody, but many people like the thought of being able to uproot and trying living in different geographies, even if only for a while.

What’s more, the industry offers a chance to do valuable work for the environment and public health — a strong motivation for a lot of people these days. In the water business, you don’t have to chase booms (and busts) like oilfield work. Almost every city and village has a water system. Just pick an area that appeals to you. Chances are, job opportunities will be there, if not immediately, then before long.

Raising the profile

If all the above is true, then it’s time for the water industry to raise its profile. The place to talk about secure, well-paying jobs is not in the privacy of meeting rooms or conferences but out in public — on the lecture circuit, at open houses, in the media, on the Internet.

Amid all the talk about a slow recovery, news media have been criticized for highlighting the negative and have been urged to air more stories about good things happening in the economy. Even the network news shows have been in on the act, looking for growing companies or for geographic areas where the economy remains vibrant.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a story on NBC or CNN about the water business and all the promise it holds for bright, energetic people looking for rewarding careers with little fear of layoffs?

Extending the reach

Of course, these days, we don’t have to depend on TV or other traditional media to get a story out. Websites devoted to career advice are abundant. Get a story about clean-water jobs to go viral on the Internet and who knows what might happen?

Of course, there remain the usual job recruitment channels — high school guidance counselors, trade and technical colleges, engineering schools, job fairs. In these venues perhaps the volume of rhetoric needs to be raised.

The times are what they are. The industry has a compelling story to tell. So let’s yell it out. Great jobs. Good pay. Room to grow. A chance to help people and the planet. And best of all, jobs that will be there no matter what happens in the oil patch, in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street. Apply today.

Now’s the time to act. A chance like this won’t soon come around again.


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