As long as there are humans, there will always be a need for Collection Systems professionals. – Juan Martinez
We recently interviewed Juan Martinez of Coachella Valley Water District about his role in CWEA certification. Juan has been training collection workers for CWEA certification for over 6 years. He credits his very own experience from the Army to digging in the trenches for why his training courses are so popular. He’s done it all and shares his story below.
How did you get into this profession?
I started out in the Domestic Sector (drinking water), and after about a year I was encouraged to apply for a position in the Sanitation/Collections Department. I remember asking the HR representative what “Collection Systems” was. I had no clue. As a farm boy who grew up picking grapes with my parents, I did not know anything about sanitation. I honestly thought it had something to do with washing your hands or keeping something clean.
After the HR representative explained to me the functions and opportunities within this profession, I thought about it and decided that it seemed like something I could do. It appeared to be (and turned out to be) a great career path for me.
At the beginning of my career with Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), one of my mentors at the time was Javier Villarreal. Javier helped me learn about the profession and eventually, I also learned how to train individuals that wanted to take the CWEA Collection Systems exam.
While I was preparing for my CWEA grade 2 exam, I went to a study session, but the trainer never showed. Although it was frustrating at the time, this experience encouraged me to challenge myself in a new way. I was a young guy, just wanting to move up. What did I know about teaching the class? Not much. So I asked Javier to teach me everything he knew about how to run the preparation sessions. He let me shadow him and eventually, I learned what to do or at least had a general idea.
I learned Javier’s teaching methods but eventually, I slowly changed things here and there and constantly updated the PowerPoint presentation to what I thought the Collection Systems professionals might like. More than anything, I felt like I was one of the many resources that are/were out there to prepare professionals for these exams.
Before I knew it, my name got out to more and more people. As a result, I provided exam preparation classes for CWEA, the Colorado River Basin Section, and for special districts.
You’re a famous CWEA certification trainer – why do your students like to learn from you?
I feel that the students that I have taught like to learn from me, because I am a trainer that has the field experience. I have been in the trenches with a pick and a shovel, working on gravity or forced systems, I have operated vactors, cranes (crane certified), backhoes, loaders, etc. I have been up to my neck in, and a few times under, sewage. In a few words, I have gotten dirty, so when they hear what I have to say, I think they can relate to me, because I have been there. Plus, I feel that I offered easy-going, laid back classes. I tried to make them very interactive. Participation was always encouraged and welcomed. I feel that it is how one learns best – by learning from other professionals. Furthermore, I have personally taken the CWEA exams, and understand what it feels like to be under pressure (especially when one has worked and studied hard), and all in efforts to be successful in obtaining one’s certificate.
What was your career path like?
As I mentioned earlier, I began my career in the potable water sector and transferred to the Collections department, all while I was attending the local community college. After two and a half years in collections, I transferred to our purchasing department. After almost a year to the date, I transferred back to the collections department. As it turns out, during my year in purchasing, I realized that I belonged in collections.
What’s the secret to moving up in our profession?
- Having a good work ethic.
- Getting certified, certified, and certified!
- Working on one’s education, aside from certification.
- Showing responsibility in the ‘basics’: arriving to work on time, being at the right place, and in the right uniform. And having the drive to learn as much as you can.
Why become a leader?
My motivation comes from my parents – they wanted a better life for me, and I wanted to achieve my goals and make them proud.
I also served in the US Army as an Infantry man so my training and mentality has always been go, go, go. They instill in your brain a drive to become better at everything you do.
I always knew I wanted to become a leader. I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on my crew, my department, my agency, and my community. I kept going to school and eventually I was blessed with an opportunity to serve in a leadership role where I can make a positive impact – one where I hope to inspire others to learn, do, and become more.
Best part of the job?
The best part has to be the camaraderie among all of us here in the department. We all share a common goal – to protect our community’s investment into the collection system, do what’s right, and make sure everything is flowing to the plant.
When I’m working out on the field, the best part for me is trouble shooting – developing big or small solutions. I really enjoy doing that.
I have grown, and continue to grow, in this profession. It is a never-ending learning experience.
My biggest achievement is graduating with my Associates Degree. Imagine being outside all day, in the blazing sun, in the desert, then going out to classes at night. It was tough.
I also see the pride of ownership my crews have in their work. It is a huge accomplishment when a line is repaired or any project is completed under budget, on time, and without any sanitary sewer overflows. We take pride in doing that. No one else knows, but we do.
I also think about all the professionals I have assisted in preparation for their certification exam and where they are today. One time, a young man from Visalia came into one of my classes. It was a Wednesday. I asked him what his goals were. He said he had to pass the CWEA grade 1 to keep his job. (Okay, that’s big pressure!) I asked when his exam was scheduled. He said it was the following Monday. I was floored! I told him he had no choice but to bury his face in the books and all the material that I gave him to read, that weekend. I got a call from him two weeks later. He passed his test and everything we studied was on the test. That’s a success story – everything was on the line and he succeeded. I’m glad I was there to help.
What do you recommend to young professionals?
Go to school – get an education under your belt. I know it’s tough to do, but get your education. Many agencies require it these days.
Try to understand the industry as much as you can – you never, ever know everything. Study it, learn it, but be humble enough to know you’re not going to know everything.
Know you’ll have to work well as a team to get things done.
Obtain those keys of opportunity (education, certifications), so one day when a door becomes available to you, you’ll have the right keys to open it up.
Be patient. Patience pays off and will continue to pay off your entire career.
Would you recommend this profession to others?
I do recommend it. This is a very rewarding and unique profession, in that you get to work closely with so many professionals. There is never a dull moment. We are protectors of the public’s health by assuring that all flows arrive to the designated plants and we work hard to do it without any unwanted SSO’s. As long as there are humans, there will always be a need for Collection Systems professionals.