Utility District Joins Forces With School to Promote Water Careers​

A water and sewer district and a school system team up for a presentation to introduce students to job opportunities in the water sector

Utility District Joins Forces With School to Promote Water Careers​

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The Lakehaven Water and Sewer District in Washington is collaborating with Federal Way Public Schools to introduce the wastewater industry to middle and high school students contemplating careers.

Last fall, more than 40 students attended a program at the district’s Lakota Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“District commissioners Len Englund and Ron Nowicki have always been involved with the schools, and all of our commissioners wanted to introduce high school students to our industry,” says John Bowman, district general manager. “With succession planning being top of mind and the aging of the workforce that we are facing, they thought promoting the industry to students while they’re still deciding what career path to follow would be a way to reach out to that next generation of workers.”

A Wider Net

The Lakehaven Sewer District, between Seattle and Tacoma in King and Pierce counties, encompasses some 35 square miles, serving about 115,000 residents. The district has served the Federal Way area and its school system for more than 60 years. The sewer system includes 350 miles of mainline, 32 pump stations, and two secondary wastewater treatment plants: the Redondo plant (5.6 mgd design) and the Lakota plant (10 mgd design).

While the district has given tours to grade school and middle school children for many years, last year was the first time the tour and program included high school students. John Barton, wastewater operations manager, says most students aren’t aware of the industry; he believes it needs to be promoted for its career potential and its role in public health and the environment.

Commissioner Nowicki and Dr. Tammy Campbell, Federal Way Public Schools superintendent, attended a chamber of commerce luncheon and there discussed whether some of her students could tour the Lakota plant. She suggested members of a scholar advisory group she established three years ago — a diverse group with representatives from Federal Way’s 15 middle and high schools.

Promoting Openings

After that discussion, Nowicki worked with the Lakehaven staff to assemble a program for the visit. Since some of the students were juniors and seniors, Nowicki wanted to teach them about the water and wastewater industry in general and about the kinds of jobs at the district and the openings then available. He noted that the jobs include roles for four-year degree college and noncollege students, as well as students considering two-year technical degrees. Students learned about careers as operators, engineers, electricians, custodians and administrators.

The day started with a welcome from Nowicki and Campbell. The students then broke up into two groups of 20. One group stayed in the administrative building and heard staff members describe the jobs in the Engineering and Water departments of the utility.

The water manager talked about equipment and grounds maintenance, water production and water quality testing. Engineering described roles in computer-aided design, geographical information systems and utility locating. The speakers discussed the education levels, certifications and salary ranges related to each role.

The other group went to the maintenance building and split into two groups of 10. One group toured the Lakota plant, and the other group heard representatives from field operations talk about their jobs, such as installing and maintaining fire hydrants, sewer systems and pump stations. The maintenance personnel talked about fleet vehicle upkeep. The two groups of 10 then switched places and then switched again with those in the administration building.

Viable Career Path

“We wanted the students to know that the field is very dynamic and really growing and will provide a lot of opportunity for them, now and in the future,” Barton says. He noted that the field now encompasses robotics and computers and is technologically driven. He also told the students about the rewards of good-paying careers working in environmental stewardship.

Attendees learned about the characteristics of successful employees at the plant, like being self-motivated and having an interest in health and environmental safety.

“As rules and regulations change, we need to keep up with the technology and processes,” Bowman says. “Students considering careers in our industry need to keep up with ever-evolving technology, and that requires continual learning.”

One student told the district’s field operations manager after the presentations that the day’s events had changed his thinking about his future — an indication that the day had an impact. Students’ feedback was positive and eye-opening: Campbell reports that they were amazed at the variety of roles, pay ranges, availability of local jobs, and opportunities that do not require a four-year degree.

The Lakehaven Water and Sewer District also has a history of working with nearby Green River Community College on its wastewater curriculum and operator program. About eight years ago, district staff started working with the college on a model to get students from the classroom to practical experience. Each year, the district places up to two nonpaid interns from the college at both the Redondo and Lakehaven wastewater treatment plants.

As for the high school offering, “I was very impressed with the tour and program,” Campbell says. “We will definitely keep it up for future years. I also would like to work with my staff to see if we can help Lakehaven set up an internship program at the plant for the students still in school to familiarize them with the industry and give them the experience they need to break into it after graduation.”


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