“I love how our daily activities are primarily focused on making the planet a better place to live for everyone, especially our children Heck, sometimes I think my uniform should come with a cape!”
Volunteer TCP Moderator, Collections Crew Leader, Rodeo Sanitary District
SWRCB Operator, Grade 4; Collections Systems Maintenance, Grade 3; Electrical & Instrumentation, Grade 2; Industrial WTPO, Grade 2
This month’s Q&A is with Dennis Lambert, Crew Leader with Rodeo Sanitary District.
1. How did you get your first job in the wastewater profession?
In the Spring of 2009, I was laid off in the Great Recession. For my entire adult life, I was in the Information Technology world. At that time, the economy was fully off-the-rails and the only thing I heard back from my applications were the sound of crickets.
So one day, I was riding my bicycle with my daughter near the Pinole WWTP when I saw the operators walking around with their clipboards and cool uniforms and wondered to myself, “what it would take to get that job?” I thought it would be easy because who would want to work with poo right? Little did I know how many folks wanted that job…
After some Google searching and a few impromptu site visits, I ran across an organization named California Water Environment Association. At that time, the background checking for student memberships was a bit lax, so I convinced myself I was a student (I had already bought the Ken Kerri book from Sac State) and joined. I attended dinner meetings and safety training sessions, a few people took me under their wing and eventually through networking and sheer persistence, I basically annoyed my current employer into taking a chance on a pudgy, grey-haired, middle-aged, Operator-in-Training.
2. How did you get involved as a CWEA volunteer?
After making grade as an Operator (I’m currently a Grade 4, have passed my Grade 5) an opportunity opened up as a Crew Leader in our Collection Systems Department. I worked hard learning the new discipline and was rewarded with the job when my predecessor retired. As we are a small organization, my District Manager asked that I reach out to the Collection Systems Committee to further expand our horizons and benefit from the group’s experience.
I think what I like most about the Collections Committee is the cohesion and diligence. We truly are brothers and sisters of the sewers.
3. What does it mean to you being a certified Wastewater/Collection System/E&I/Lab professional?
Besides the bump in pay, I think it speaks to a greater demonstrated and measurable learning in the field of Wastewater Technology. Every class I have taken to prepare for my certifications has enhanced my understanding of the great complexity of the tasks before me. Problems I encounter are more easily resolved by the exposure that I have to all the moving parts.
4. What is it like for you taking your certification tests? Advice for test takers?
Piece of cake! Get started on it already…time is wasting.
There is no substitute for education, in addition to CWEA sections, look into Community Colleges. I have had tremendously useful classes in Tri-Valley Regional Occupation Program (www.tvrop.org), BACWWE (www.bacwwe.org), Solano Community College, Los Medanos Community College and I hear that Gavilland Community College in the South Bay also offers wastewater classes as well.
Education is a life-long endeavor!
5. Anything unique about our profession most people don’t know?
Some things I really like about our profession:
- I love how our daily activities are primarily focused on making the planet a better place to live for everyone, especially our children (Heck, sometimes I think my uniform should come with a cape!)
- The intersection of business planning with environmental stewardship, doing just the right amount of good that makes sense for our customers
- The way that folks in our industry stick together and help each other freely
6. Any other advice for new people entering our profession on how to get ahead and be successful?
Be persistent, it will come…
The week before I was hired, my soon-to-be District Manager after my third unannounced visit, reluctantly handed me his card and said he “would prefer all future contact be via email.” The following week he called and asked, “When can you start?” Needless to say, I was very surprised (but also very happy) and I haven’t regretted a single day since.