“I saw what they were looking for in the formulas and I made up my own practice questions. I was out hiking once and realized I could calculate the flow rate of a creek, it’s just about making the learning fun.”
CWEA Board of Directors
Chair, Technical Certification Program
Maintenance Superintendent, Plant 1
Orange County Sanitation District
Q: How did you get your first job in the wastewater profession?
A: I was out of work at the time so I applied for a job at Moulton Niguel Water District (Laguna Niguel, CA) thinking I would get hired into the drinking water plant. I applied, they gave me a tour, I was interviewed and got hired and started working at the wastewater plant. I guess you could say I kind of fell into this industry.
Within a year of working there I knew I’d stay for life. Even 23 years ago Moulton Niguel was working on cutting edge stuff – water reuse and the beneficial reuse of biosolids. I really liked what they were doing, those are things I believe in as well. As the years went along I saw a lot of job security in this sector and decided to stay.
Q: How did you get involved as a CWEA volunteer?
A: About a year after getting my job I stared going to Annual Conferences. My position had a requirement for certification. Going to conferences, I met more and more people. Simon Watson (Past President) got me involved in Operations Committee for several years, and then from there went to the Technical Certification Program for 11 years. This year I’m on the CWEA Board of Directors.
The benefit of CWEA for me is the incredible amount of contacts – I know more people in the CWEA than anywhere else. It’s a really diverse group of people – different agencies, different types of people.
CWEA also really helped me with my organizational skills and prioritizing my time. Working on the TCP Executive Committee has given me a completely new perspective – it made me aware of the need for better education and training. We need to do more to help our members.
Q: Why is Mechanical Technician certification important?
A: Mechanical Technician certification is important as it allows the agency to demonstrate their employees are well trained and competent. They can show this to regulatory agencies – here is the training this person has gone through and the exams they’ve passed. It provides validation for the employer that the people know what they’re doing.
I’ve always viewed certification as a good way to judge how you’re doing in your career, and it’s a great tool for advancement. You can walk into an interview and show them that piece of paper and demonstrate you’re ready for that next step up.
Q: Any advice for test takers?
A: I know for myself when I started taking exams I went to the CWEA Certification Preparation sessions. I understood the study guide was not the answers to the test – it was only a guide. Use your other resources that are available out there.
I used my old algebra books to study. I saw what they were looking for in the formulas and I made up my own practice questions. I was out hiking once and realized I could calculate the flow rate of a creek, it’s just about making the learning fun.
I was also talking to people who took the exam before me to find out what was good and bad and what their advice was. It’s like going back to school – you’ve simply got to study.
Q: Is there something you think is surprising most people don’t know about the maintenance profession you’d like to share?
A: I know for me when I got into this, I found the need for math skills was very important in the water business. I wasn’t expecting to have to use it so much, but with pump flows, curves, motor speeds and other systems you’re always calculating something.
I thought it would be magically done by the engineering department, but the more I got involved in maintenance requirements the more I found I had to have those math skills to diagnose and figure out what was going on with the equipment.
I think water math is a skill all on its own.
Q: Any other advice for new people entering our profession on how to get ahead and be successful?
A: The things that helped me the most and got me to where I am today is I found mentors at the different districts where I worked. There’s always someone there who knows more than me and I would get together with them and learn from them.
To get ahead, look for a mentor – someone at the plant or you can look inside CWEA for a mentor.
Also pay attention to the industry because things are changing rapidly. I think the fact that we’ve moved into an electronic era, computer skills and mathematics will become increasingly important. Our workers very seldom print out paperwork, they need to have strong skills with tablet computers, Word, Excel and email. It may sound like no big deal, but for the people not used to working with software – it can be a challenge, so brush up your skills