CWEA Subject Matter Expert Profile: Robert Gerena, Operations & Maintenance Supervisor, City of Hayward Utilities

Robert Gerena
Volunteer TCP Moderator
Operations & Maintenance Supervisor
City of Hayward Utilities
Mechanical Technologist, Grade 4

How did you get your first job in the wastewater profession?
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 involved?
I was asked by Vivien Malig to participate in the Mechanical Technologist Exam Validation Project in 2013. It sounded like an interesting project, and I figured it’d be pretty neat 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 and also meeting colleagues from other agencies and finding out what their experiences were.

What does it mean to you being a certified Mechanical Technician professional? Why is it important for the profession?
I realize that a certification by itself is simply a piece of paper, but certifications can be excellent ways to open avenues of conversation during interviews that can get an individual noticed, or make them stand out from the crowd.

On more than on 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.

What is it like for you taking your Mech-Tech certification tests? Advice for test takers?
I’m one of those people who aren’t intimidated by tests, and my training is pretty extensive (the US Navy 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 allows the test-taker to avoid being confused by the wording of a question.

Is there something you think is surprising most people don’t know about the Mech-Tech/Maintenance profession you’d like to share?
It’s a very diverse field. While CWEA concentrates on the wastewater industry, the information covered is applicable to the water, power generation, gas utility, building maintenance and so many other fields. For this reason, the CWEA exam series, particularly the Mechanical Technologist and Electrical/Instrumentation Technologist series can be applied to so many other employment opportunities.

Any other advice for new people entering our profession 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 an 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.


About the Author

Megan Barillo

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