Robert Gerena, Utilities O&M Supervisor, City of Hayward
How did you get your first job in the wastewater sector?
After getting out of the Navy, I worked for the federal government at Camp Pendleton as a Boiler Plant Operator. I saw that as a dead-end job and looked for a way to a different career path. I was living in San Diego at the time, and several community colleges down there had extensive water/wastewater classes. I started taking classes, getting certified and interviewing, finally getting a job as a Wastewater Treatment Plant Mechanic with the City of Oceanside. I did that for two years, before getting hired by the City of San Diego as a Cross-Connection Specialist for two years, then Reclaimed Water Inspector for two years, finally as a GIS Supervisor for four years. In 2005, I came to the City of Hayward as a Utilities Operations & Maintenance Supervisor.
How did you get involved as a CWEA volunteer? What do you enjoy about being a volunteer?
In 2013 I was asked by Vivien Malig to participate in the Mechanical Technologist Exam Validation Project. It sounded like an interesting project, and I figured it’d be interesting to see how these exams are developed and updated. It also gave me a chance to actively deal with issues on exams that are my pet-peeves; grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, questions that are limited in relevance to the subject matter and other issues I’ve noticed on certifications exams I’ve taken. I enjoyed being able to deal with these “pet-peeve” issues, as well as meeting colleagues from other agencies and finding out what their experiences were.
When Norah Duffy and Lydia Guerra asked me to work on the Collection System Maintenance exam, I quickly agreed to.
What does it mean to you being a certified Collection System professional?
Being certified is also an excellent way to open avenues of conversation during interviews that can get an individual noticed or help them stand out from the crowd.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had follow-up questions based on my certifications that continued the dialogue with the interviewer beyond simply answering the question asked. It’s allowed me to demonstrate a level of competence that may not be directly relevant to an employment opportunity, but highlight intangible qualities an employer may be looking for such as versatility, motivation, the ability to adapt, dealing with stress (certification exams can be stressful to some people), and give a prospective employer a graphic illustration of the depth and breadth of my experience and knowledge.
This is especially important when you’re interviewing for leadership positions. Being certified and being certified at a level beyond what is or may be required at your present employer demonstrates initiative and can inspire and motivate subordinate employees to work beyond their job descriptions.
Why is it important for the profession?
I realize that a certification by itself is simply a piece of paper, but certifications are a tangible way to demonstrate a level of knowledge and experience.
Advice for test takers?
I’m one of those people who aren’t intimidated by tests, and my training is pretty extensive (the military provides excellent training), so for me the certification exams weren’t that scary. A big tip is to use the study guides. The guides are well written, the math is well explained, and the practice tests are applicable to what an individual will see on an actual exam.
Another tip is to know the math. Don’t memorize formulas, know what they mean. Knowing the math makes figuring out what’s being asked in a math question a much more logical process and helps the test-taker avoid being confused by the wording of a question.
Is there something you think is surprising most people don’t know about the Collection System profession you’d like to share?
It’s a constantly evolving field, especially the regulatory aspect, and the industry’s response to constantly changing regulatory requirements. There’s also a lot of technical innovation currently happening and it’s going to be interesting seeing how it plays out.
Any other advice for new people entering our sector on how to get ahead and be successful?
Look for where you want to be and set yourself up to get there. Take classes, get certified and interview for jobs. If you’re interested in working in a wastewater plant, find one and talk to the people there. Ask for a tour. Tour multiple plants and talk to anyone you meet at these plants. Ask them your questions.
Once you get hired, make yourself a valuable commodity. Become the authority of your plant/system. Become the person people ask when they need info on the plant/system. If you see a promotional opportunity, prepare yourself for it in advance. Devote the effort to getting yourself known as the person who gets things done.
By doing this, you will be ready for any unexpected opportunities such as sudden retirements or personnel departures in your organization.