Young Professionals POV on Workforce Impact

Meet three CWEA members who fall into the “young professional” category of CWEA membership. We asked Kaitie Zusy, Noe Meza and Roya Joseph to join the discussion on the Workforce Impact from the Young Professional point of view. Here is what they have to say on what it’s like to work in an industry where the majority of people are older and closer to retirement age.

(L-R) Noe Meza, Roya Joseph and Kaitie Zusy

(L-R) Noe Meza, Roya Joseph and Kaitie Zusy

Kaitie Zusy has been working as a civil design engineer at Black and Veatch for over four years. She graduated from UC Irvine in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering. Her major work experience thus far has consisted of providing construction phase services for a Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade project, the designing of large and small pump stations, UV disinfection, cloth media filtration, ballasted flocculation, dual media filtration, plate settlers, and pipelines. Kaitie has also prepared various reports and technical memoranda for both wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities.

What is it like to work in an industry where the majority of people are older and closer to retirement age?

When I first started at Black and Veatch in 2012 as a design engineer, I was the youngest in the office and the first engineer they had hired in a few years. This was at the end of the economic recession when nobody had a guaranteed job coming out of college. This recess in new hires throughout the country could have been a contributor to the knowledge gap that has been forming between the baby boomer generation and the incoming millennials.

Everyone in my office had at least five years of experience in the industry, while all I had was a summer internship watching sewer CCTV tapes.

On my first day, everyone was excited to hand over their tedious tasks to the new hire. When I had an assignment and had questions, I would go to those in the office with the most experience. If they did not have an answer, they would give a list of people to call within the company who would know the answer. It happened on more than one occasion that the expert I was told to call had retired. I would go through a network of others to find the new expert on the subject. Most of the time, the retired expert’s apprentice could provide me with the information needed, but other times, one small piece of information that would have made the execution of my assignment more efficient was lost in translation from the expert to the apprentice.

What is your advice to a young professional entering the industry?

As I gain more experience, I have learned that no piece of information you receive should be ignored. I started utilizing many different sources for information such as the Internet, peers at other companies, and networking events, particularly CWEA events.


Noe Meza is an assistant engineer for the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District. He has been with Central San for over four years. Noe graduated from the University of the Pacific with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Science, with a focus on Civil Engineering.

What is it like to work in an industry where the majority of people are older and closer to retirement age?

Working with older folks can have its challenges, but it is actually very exciting. It can be very beneficial working with someone who has been in the industry for a long time because of all of the experience that they have gained throughout the years. Most people are willing to work with you and pass on institutional knowledge if you are open and interested in learning.

The biggest challenge that I faced as a new engineer was learning the ropes. Every company has different policies and procedures and sometimes it can get overwhelming especially if some of those  procedures are sometimes unwritten. When employees are retiring, sometimes suddenly, a challenge is to find ways to retain the institutional knowledge that they posses. Sometimes getting around this requires doing quite a bit of research and sometimes digging into their old files.

What is your advice to a young professional entering the industry?

Do not feel like you are stuck in one place. If there are no opportunities to move up within your company or if you do not like what you are doing, there is nothing wrong with looking around to other companies. Be involved in organizations such as CWEA because it is a great resource for networking with other people in the industry.

Roya Joseph is an assistant environmental engineer at Whitley Burchett & Associates in Walnut Creek (Now West Yost). Roya has been working on various wastewater engineering projects, including pump station design, odor control, cogeneration and solar power analysis. She earned her M.S. degree in Environmental Engineering from North Carolina State University. Her thesis was focused on Modeling Fats, Oil, and Grease (FOG) Deposit Formation and Accumulation in Sewer Collection Systems (currently submitted to the Journal of Hydrodynamics). Previously, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Roya is an active member of CWEA, SF Bay Section, Professional Development Committee and Students & Young Professional Committee, and Engineers without Borders, SF professional Chapter.

What is it like to work in an industry where the majority of people are older and closer to retirement age?

Working in an industry where the majority of the folks are older and closer to retirement, like almost anything else in life, has both pros and cons. I would like to start with the benefits:

  • It provides an outstanding mentorship opportunity: Older professionals bring a vast amount of knowledge and experience; they are the ‘experts’ in one or more areas. Working with them provides training opportunities that will prevent us from re-inventing the wheel and they can give you constructive feedback that will develop our skills. The seasoned professional has lived through the business cycle’s peaks and valleys and has learned the shortcuts and how to negotiate office politics.
  • They know a lot of people: Having worked in the industry for a long time, closer to retirement professionals have a significant network of people in our industry. We can benefit by them introducing us, or even better, recommending us or our work to other professionals.
  • They love to pass on their knowledge: As a young professional, I would like to be challenged on a daily basis by something new and interesting. Older professionals are the exact resources for an interesting challenge, whether it is a new project or a curious article. You just need to be willing to listen to them. There are also differences between millennials and baby boomers that can mainly be summarized in how things are seen and done.

Here are some examples:

  • Communication: The older generation started their careers when people routinely communicated by telephone. They still use the phone and know the value of verbal conversation  and in-person meetings. They believe that relationships are formed from face-to-face interactions. While we, as the younger generation, do understand the value of in-person meetings and face-to-face interactions, you can find us texting, even if we are in the same room. We also value the opinions we find on social media. This difference in communication should be recognized when a young professional is working with a client who prefers to get phone calls.
  • Business development: A direct derivative of communication styles is business development styles. While we do understand the importance of professionalism and will be professional, we are also a fan of more relaxed styles.
  • Prestige versus influence: I have talked to many of my peers and we all agree that as long as we can have the influence and power that fulfills our professional ambitions, the status, the title, and the corner offices do not matter to us.
  • Problem solving approach: The more senior staff will solve a problem using means and methods that have been used in the past and proved to be “The Way” to do the task. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself: “Is this really the best way to do the task? Can we do this in a less tedious way while accomplishing the same goals?” I was lucky enough to form a mentorship relationship from the first day that I was hired. I was also lucky to be challenged with various topics and projects, on a monthly basis if not weekly. But from day one, what I had at the back of my mind was “what is the industry going to do when these CHAMPIONS of A or B are retired? Who is going to fill the gap of an EXPERT in X or Y?”

What is your advice to a young professional entering the industry?

Embrace the mentorship from day one. Ask for it if it is not already a part of your on-boarding program. This relationship is beneficial to you, to your mentor, your supervisor, your company and your industry.

Be patient, a good listener and a learner. Working with older engineers who can pull the right criteria or coefficient off the top of their head while I need to look it up in books and manuals is amazing and a bit intimidating. But, be patient, take notes, ask questions and learn. Remember, most of the things they are going to share with you are not taught at schools.

Try to bridge the generation gap: It is amazing how, despite age differences, we all unify to obtain a common goal or objective. Find those goals and focus on them. Those jokes they tell that you do not get but make others laugh – find out what is so funny. And if you don’t find it funny, well, there is no way to bridge that gap!


About the Author

Megan Barillo

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One comment on “Young Professionals POV on Workforce Impact

  1. Brenda Donald says:

    Great interviews Megan and staff.

    RE: Prestige versus influence

    I coach younger (under 35) female engineers and other staff to apply for awards, polish that resume, demand the prestige if you deserve it. It may seem tacky and self serving but later in your career after the idealism of youth fades and you have more responsibility (kids, mortgage) you will be glad you did.

    Influence is great but you can and should expect both. Funny thing-I have never had to tell younger men this. In our culture perception is still a big deal. So professionally and sweetly demand/expect both. And tell your peers.

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