It’s tough out there in today’s job market. Even engineering grads are having a hard time finding work. But there are some engineering areas where jobs are plentiful—water utilities. It may not be as glamorous or sexy as computers or IT, but it’s where lots of opportunities are opening up right now.
If you’re faced with a mountain of college debt and you’re tired of living with your parents and driving their hand-me-down four-door sedan, it might be time to put your CE or ME sheepskin to work.
The good news is employment in water and sewage systems is projected to grow, while other segments of the utilities industry will experience a drop off. The water supply sector, for example, will employ more production workers and plant operators. Earnings for these production workers will be significantly higher than in most other industries.
In addition, since the utilities industry is typically made of many different companies and products, the skills and knowledge developed in one industry may not be readily transferable to other industry segments. College grads who majored in civil or mechanical engineering will have the best chance at landing a job in this increasingly technical utilities sector.
Each day, water utilities supply roughly 100 gallons of fresh, treated water day for every individual in the U.S. That's nearly 40 billion gallons per day. Water collected from rivers, lakes, and wells is filtered, treated, and sold for residential, industrial, agricultural, commercial, and public use. Water utility systems vary by population and use. Rural areas may be successfully served by a small plant monitored intermittently by a single operator while large cities may need a massive system of reservoirs, dams, pipelines, and treatment plants, coordinated by a staff of hundreds.
Closely related to water utilities are sewage treatment facilities, which collect, treat, and dispose of waste from homes and industries. Jobs here are also expected to be plentiful as the country's aging facilities fall into disrepair.
If you’re a recent grad and you’re interviewing for a job in water utilities engineering, you’ll need to show your prospective employer that you’re ready to take on real-world assignments. Talk about your senior projects and how they relate to the company’s projects. Some students have documented their student projects in videos, which can be helpful in demonstrating your knowledge and skills.
A number of utility companies will have internship positions available. These are often 6-month or 1-year posts that have a low starting salary. Consider these after evaluating the “back end” of the offer. In other words, will you be getting a raise in salary, title or position after the internship period is up? Will the company include full benefits with the internship offer? Other companies will offer “rotator” internships that move you through the organization every few months or so. These can be very valuable in “fitting” you to the job that best suits your personality and skill sets.
Yes, times are tough, even for engineering grads. But water utilities are hiring. And that’s good news for anyone looking for a job.