The question will come up to everyone sometime in their young lives. What do you want to do when you grow up? What a loaded question! Everyone wants job security, and it's one of the great things about the waterworks industry. This industry will never go away, becoming more critical every year. Whether you work for a Manufacturer, Distributor, Contractor, Engineer, or Municipality, there are thousands of jobs and endless possibilities for current and future work. And with an aging generation in the waterworks industry, the near future for young professionals is more promising than ever.
First, What is Waterworks?
– Waterworks, Noun – Plural - “A system of buildings and pipes in which a public supply of water is stored and cleaned and from which it is sent out” – Per the Cambridge Dictionary. “A complete system of reservoirs, pipelines, conduits, etc., by which water is collected, purified, stored, and pumped to urban users.” – Dictionary.com. Although it seems simple, it's far from simple. A waterworks project can take months to years to complete from start to finish. Manufacturers of products including Ductile iron pipe, fittings, fire hydrants, and valves are all made as part of the complete system to bring safe and clean drinking water to cities across America every day.
Why choose a career in Waterworks?
Important decisions come your way in every year of your life. One of the biggest often comes in your late teens and early 20s when you must try and decide what to do for a living. Should I go to college or get right into the workforce? You can work your way up within hundreds of companies to succeed. The waterworks industry has great-paying jobs with benefits that are on par with the best in the country. Many careers in waterworks do not require a college degree, as seen below from the chart and the Bureau of Labor Statistics stats. But having a degree can also propel you even further.
The graph below shows with potential problems come great opportunities. The growth potential in the next 5-10 years in the waterworks career is unmatched. Start in the next 1-2 years and take the time needed to master a craft in the waterworks industry. You will be ready for incredible opportunities that will continue to develop as the baby boomer age group continues to retire.
What Advice Do Young Waterworks Professionals Have?
I sat with a few young professionals in various roles in the waterworks industry and asked them for their insight into the following questions:
- What was your first paying job?
- Where did you go to school, and what level of degree is your highest?
- What advice would you provide to a high school student pursuing further education?
- What advice would you provide for a current or graduated college student?
- What do you like most about your job?
Tanner Barnes – Sr. Project Engineer for Haydon Building Corp – Phoenix, AZ
My father owned a successful construction company building custom homes in Wickenburg, Arizona. I started working for my father at a young age. He would have me pick up trash on the job site when school was on vacation or when I was in trouble. My first job on the books was when I was 14. I was hired as a busboy at a local Wickenburg "Anitas Cocina" restaurant.
I graduated from Wickenburg High School in 2011, went to college for a year, and then decided to join the U.S. Navy. After the Navy, my wife and I moved back to Wickenburg from San Diego, and I got a job working at Ferguson Waterworks in Phoenix, Arizona. I would take night classes twice a week at Scottsdale Community College. I graduated with my Associate of Arts in 2019.
I am a Sr. Project Engineer for Haydon Building Corp.'s Heavy Civil Division. My favorite thing is seeing the project at its worst (it usually looks like a bomb went off) and watching it develop into the final stages before we mobilize for the final walk-through.
As a high school student, I recommend getting experience under your belt before deciding what you want to do in life as a career. Get your hands dirty and work your way up before asking for more money. When you find what you want to do for a career, pursue a trade school that will allow you to focus on your future career.
For graduating college students, I would tell you as you go into your future career, don't go there expecting to know everything. Don't act like you know everything, and be sure to jump on every opportunity you can from the people who have been in the industry for 2 to 30 years. Absorb as much as possible. Be kind to everyone you encounter; don't take life too seriously. We are all here to do a job. You may have some obstacles or some demanding supervisors. Still, how you handle these challenges will reflect your character, and when you don't react to another person being rude or angry, that will go a lot further than reacting negatively. Remember, you never know what that person is going through outside or even at work, so remember to be empathetic.
I am proud of the connections I have made and the knowledge I have received from others, and taking every chance to learn when the opportunity arises. I have been very blessed with the people I am surrounded by. I could go from working in a warehouse to being an inside salesman and now working as a contractor in an engineering role, all because of who knew me and was willing to give me a chance.
Gabriel Laguna – Estimator for Core & Main Arizona – Phoenix, AZ
My First job was at 16, working as a busser for Nando's Mexican Café. I went to Meridian Elementary School and Desert Ridge Junior High School and graduated from Desert Ridge High School. Then, I enrolled at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, where I got my associate's degree. Afterward, I transferred to Arizona State University and graduated with my bachelor's in Business Administration.
I recommend three things for high school students: (1) Develop a good work ethic; you can never work too hard. (2) Expect and embrace the challenges. You will enjoy reflecting on what you have accomplished. (3) Don't fret about how long it takes to finish your education. Life happens; keep going.
For college students, I would tell them to invest in themselves continually. Never stop learning, take care of your health, and surround yourself with the right people.
My job always presents new challenges that provide opportunities to learn and communicate with others. I am proud that I joined this industry right out of high school, even with little knowledge. I struggled initially but always put my best foot forward and strived to learn more. I have always been focused on what's next, and it has provided more opportunities than I ever expected. I have had the privilege of meeting and working with some great people because I work in this industry.
Tyler Fritch – Plant Engineer of Fabricated Products, McWane Ductile
My first job was working event clean up at a large outdoor concert venue in Pittsburgh. I swept walkways, cleaned seating areas, emptied trash cans, and ensured the cleanliness of the facility before, during, and after the events. I have a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio University and an MBA from The Ohio State University.
As a high schooler, I recommend taking the time to identify a career in a field that interests you and figuring out what combination of education and experience can get you there. Also, don't discount the value of your part-time jobs in high school and college. Learning to function in a workplace and deal with people as an entry-level employee is a great life experience.
I recommend taking advantage of internship opportunities for a current college student. Internships are a low-stakes opportunity to try out an industry or position you may have never considered. If you find a company that you like, keep going back and building experience. An internship can be a great jumpstart to your career! For a new graduate, I recommend maintaining and leveraging your network. The relationships you develop with people throughout your personal and professional life can be invaluable at work and when searching for a career.
I enjoy the relationships with the people I work with and the various projects I work on. As an intern, engineer, and manager, I have been allowed to work and learn from people across all levels of our organization. These relationships have helped me grow both personally and professionally over the years.
I am proud to support our country's infrastructure. Water and sewage are integral to the function of a civilized society, and we are lucky enough to have the ability to manufacture many of these products domestically. Working in this industry has given me a new perspective on the hard work it takes to sustain many of the things we take for granted.
Jaycie Howell – Sales Representative for Arkansas, Oklahoma, & North Texas, McWane Ductile
My first job was as a nanny throughout high school. During college, I worked as a travel assistant for Travel for Teens throughout different areas of Europe and Iceland. I attended Tennessee Technological University and received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
My advice to high schoolers is not to stress too much about choosing a path from the get-go. In general, pursuing further education can open many doors for you, but your course of study doesn't have to put you in a box. For example, many of my friends had the mindset of "I earned degree A; therefore, I must work as an A when I graduate," which is fine if you want choice A to be your career.
Still, if you’re open to career B or C possibilities, try to do more than focus on career A during your education. You open your own doors at the end of the day, so try to pick a path that will give you the skills to find the right door.
Throughout high school, I wanted to pursue engineering because I enjoyed problem-solving. I got my feet wet in the real world and, in hindsight, realized problem-solving is not specific to engineering alone, and perhaps I was being a bit silly with my reasoning for my degree choice. Once I graduated, I decided not to pursue a career solely focused on engineering but to use the problem-solving skills I learned and valued in college. As for college students, I recommend you take every attractive opportunity and always put 100% of yourself into it.
I enjoy interacting with all different types of people and getting to help them with solutions for problems they sometimes didn't even know they had. Building relationships with engineers, contractors, distributors, municipalities, etc.. I get a clear picture of the waterworks industry from many different perspectives, and being a key resource for all those perspectives is very rewarding.
I'm proud to be a trusted resource for many. Words hold a lot of value, so when talking to customers or others in the industry, I always double-check myself to ensure I'm constantly providing accurate information. Waterworks is a critical industry; everyone needs water, and it's a fact that will never go away. Working for McWane Ductile, I play a small but essential part in providing water in an efficient, high-quality manner that will most likely last far past my lifetime.
As for those who may have recently entered the workforce, I recommend you search out a young professional’s organization in your respective field. These groups often provide individuals with training, education, and opportunities to connect with others early in their careers. They publish newsletters and host events such as business tours and professional development seminars. I am proud to be a part of the American Water Works Association Southwest Section Young Professionals Committee and was recently elected Vice Chair.
Chris Howe – Sales Representative for Utah, Colorado, and Las Vegas, McWane Ductile
I was lucky to have grown up when a twelve-year-old could deliver newspapers for money, so a paper route was my first job. My first hourly position was cleaning the floors and bathrooms after school for a small diner chain in Milwaukee called George Webb’s.
I attended Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated high school in Lansing, IL. I then enrolled at a tech school in Wisconsin to become Microsoft Certified, but after a few semesters, I realized that path was not right for me. I am enrolled at BYU-Idaho, pursuing a bachelor’s in applied business management.
For high school graduates, I would say, do not stop! Finish school while you are young. Life seems busy at eighteen or nineteen, but it only gets much more active with careers, spouses, and kids. There is never a better time than right out of high school to continue your education.
For college students or graduates, persevere and keep putting one foot before the other. Mountains are climbed one step at a time. Find someone you admire in the industry you plan to enter and ask them to mentor you. Most people respond to this request positively. This will allow you to get your foot in the door, make industry connections, and ultimately add real-world experience to your resume.
I enjoy my role because of the freedom to use my creativity and cultivate results. There are countless ways to achieve the desired result in a sales position, and every customer is different. McWane Ductile allows me to get to the finish line on my track and at my pace. I also enjoy the team and especially management. I am part of a supportive family that shares common goals and ideas.
Unfortunately, clean water is a resource millions cannot readily access. Our industry delivers this resource directly to taps in virtually every structure in the United States, giving our citizens unrestricted access to this necessity. Furthermore, the waterworks industry is always looking for ways to expand access to clean water through conservation, global programs, and innovation.
Why is the Future Growth of Waterworks Future Important?
I started in the industry six years ago through a training program and eventually inside sales in Distribution in Arizona. I moved into project coordinator/manager and absolutely loved what I learned and experienced in Distribution. After five years, the opportunity came to join McWane Ductile on the manufacturing side as a Sales Rep, and I have been in this role since 2022. I will never take for granted what is involved in a waterworks project from start to finish.
Ryan Lytle of U.S. News & World Report recommends that you start visiting campuses early in your high school career. Though some students wait until their senior years, Lytle points out that seniors have busy schedules and may not have enough time to take a full tour. Some suggest taking tours while on family vacations in the summer, but many colleges have fewer students taking classes. They may not have as many events or activities taking place, too. You generally want to plan a tour during your freshmen, sophomore, or junior year and tour campuses during the fall or spring semester.” (http://www.collegecounselorservices.com/).
Did you know that McWane offers the McWane Scholarship Program for Skilled Trades, an initiative to promote trade and technical education? Apply today at applyists.com. It’s never too early to start considering a career in the waterworks industry! Check out some great internship and full-time career opportunities here: https://www.mcwaneductile.com/about/careers/.
Join me and my peers in Portland in February 2024 for the Young Professional's Summit and explore your role in the water industry! Discuss how you can best serve the water sector—network with others nationwide, including municipal, Distribution, and manufacturing professionals. Students are more than welcome to join. Contact me at email@example.com or Jaycie Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are links to AWWA’s programs for students and young professionals:
- AWWA – American Water Works Association.
- AWWA Young Professionals page
- AWWA Young Professionals Summit
Water will forever be our top priority for humans to thrive. The industry comprises many dedicated people from all walks of life and varying degrees of education and experience. The quality of people I have met and have been privileged to work with daily will keep me in the industry until it’s my time to retire. Then, the next group of young professionals will take my place to support the most essential element on Earth further. Water.