It was just over ten years ago that I entered into a career in the water world when I accepted my current position at the Groundwater Foundation. A comment that I have consistently heard during the years is the water industry needs new young people to fill the jobs that will soon be available in abundance. Early on when I thought about this comment, I immediately envisioned water operators. Clearly the picture is a lot bigger than just water operators.
I realized how far-reaching jobs that impact the water industry are when listening to a lecture given by Mogens Bay, Executive Chairman, Valmont Industries and Robert Meaney, Sr. Vice President, Valmont Industries – Retired about global water security. Bay stated “more than a question of water scarcity we are faced with the question of developing and implementing proper management practices and sound policy on a global level.” Bay continued his comments expanding on the career opportunities that exist to address this critical situation.
Do you want to be part of the solution and ensure that future generations have a safe and sufficient water supply? There are so many paths that you can follow, anything from from marketing to science. I want to share how some of today’s water experts I know ended up in their job. For some it was a clear, straightforward path; for others it was serendipitous.
Story: I was working as a bridge designer when I saw an intriguing job advertised in the paper – to do floodplain mapping work. Pursuing the job led to a 25-year career in floodplain management and opened the door to other opportunities for me in water resources.
Advice: Be open-minded to all opportunities that you have an interest in. You never know which opportunity may lead to your dream job. Sometimes things just happen!
Matt Ondrejko, Vice President Global Marketing, Valmont Industries
Story: When I was considering taking a job with Valmont Industries in the Irrigation division I was doing a lot of research on the company. I came across a video online that showed former CEO Mogens Bay talking about the need to manage and use water in the most efficient and effective way possible. He then made a statement that by 2050 the world would have 9 Billion people to feed, clothe and house. That was when it dawned on me what a great opportunity it would be to help be part of the solution for better utilizing one of our most limited resources – fresh water.
Advice: Follow your passion but be willing to deviate along the trip – take new roads. The path you start on may not be the one you end up on or even finish on. Be willing to try new things but stay true to your core values and who you are along the journey!
Jim Goeke, Professor Emeritus, University of Nebraska –Retired
Story: My choice to study geology was a natural outcome sparked by my delight collecting fossils in the strip coal mines in Illinois with my mother when I was supposed to be fishing. The more I studied geology, the more I was moved by the vast amounts of time involved. I loved the people in the discipline and being able to be outside in awe inspiring locales. It was an easy transition to get into hydrogeology because simply I have always cherished a cool drink of water and I have been always fascinated by being getting that cool water out of the ground!
Advice: investigate summer employment with a local well driller or possible summer employment with the USGS or your state geologic survey.
Story: I was a strategy consultant doing voice of customer/market research for Fortune 250s in energy and water. I spent a year studying the groundwater market for a large equipment manufacturer and was stunned to learn that 1M of the 15M private domestic and ag wells in the US fail every year, costing $1B or more in emergency spend and that most of the time, no one really knew what was going on with groundwater. It seemed to me that, with the right technology and data in the cloud, each of those 15M private wells was a candidate to become a monitoring well, providing the insight well owners and communities need to manage sustainably. After a year of research and investigation Wellntel was started.
Advice: The scope and variety of potential roles and types of companies in the water industry will continue to grow and diversify as all players - utilities, well owners, equipment companies, communities, commodity markets, technologies companies and many more - wrestle with the need to price and sustainably manage one of our most important natural resources.
Story: I grew up with a father fully dedicated to agricultural irrigation and feel blessed to have had great opportunities to pursue the same career. To be a part of conserving such a valuable resource while feeding people is extremely gratifying.
Advice: Sounds cliché, but following your heart helps to ensure a career aligned with your God given strengths and passions. I’m not sure who originally coined the phrase; “Find something that you truly enjoy doing and you’ll never work a day in your life”, but I’ve always thought it to be spot on.
Story: It all began when I met Bob Kuzelka, who offered me an assistantship based on my policy experience. Before I met Bob I had envisioned myself as a town planner, but I’ve been focused on water ever since.
Advice: Technical expertise is important, but it’s the interpersonal skills that really set you apart. Being known for working hard and keeping your commitments means a lot.
Bob Swanson, Director – Retired, USGS Nebraska Water Science Center
Story: ’Twas serendipity that led me into the water world. I had graduated at Doane with Biology and Environmental Sciences majors and was planning to head off to Montana for grad school, but couldn’t for another year. I had internships with Crete Mills (didn’t want to be a lab rat) and USDA ARS. The ARS appealed to me, but crop science wasn’t a priority. I wanted to get into natural science. An acquaintance told me that the USGS was hiring and I should look into it. I thought, “I can do that for year.” It turned into a lifelong career!
Advice: Go for the internships - USGS, DNR, Groundwater Foundation. Paid or unpaid, it doesn’t matter, the experience does. I’ve had about a dozen interns decide to change degree paths and go into hydrology just on the experience. We’ve also had our share of the hydrologist hires that have realized after 4 years of school and getting hired by USGS that water isn’t for them. I rather know it was what I wanted before graduating than after and the internships are the key.
Bill Alley, Director of Science and Technology, National Groundwater Association
Story: My interest in water began when I participated as an undergraduate in a study of acid mine drainage in Colorado during the summer.
Advice: Keep an open mind and try to get a good grounding in the basic sciences.
So, as you can see, the paths to the careers are as varied as the jobs themselves. As you start or transition in your career keep an open mind, you never know, you may get a degree in Art History – and end up with a motivating, challenging and rewarding job at the Groundwater Foundation!