Ontario Water Works Association uses the “Get Wet” campaign and social media to get students thinking about careers in water. Like many sectors, the water industry has an aging workforce and is experiencing mass retirement. By encouraging students today, the campaign aims to excite the next generation of water professionals.

By: Emma Murphy, CH2M HILL Sales Process Manager and OWWA President

One of my greatest pleasures as Ontario Water Works Association (OWWA) President is the opportunity to reach out and connect with young people about careers in water. Like many other areas, the water sector has an aging workforce and is experiencing mass retirement, as well as challenges in attracting and retaining people. The water industry employees that are about to retire represent a huge potential loss of institutional knowledge without proper succession planning and documentation.

Recognizing that there are many sectors competing for new high school graduates, the OWWA, in conjunction with its partners (the Ontario Municipal Water Association, Ontario Clean Water Agency, Ontario Water Works Equipment Association, and the Water Environment Association of Ontario), initially worked with a creative company to make four short video clips on water to attract the attention of young people (with funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment).

2012 winner Robyn Trinkwon with Emma Murphy

These videos formed the foundation of the “Get Wet” webpage and video contest. First a social media campaign encouraged people to watch the videos and provided a link to the A Career In Water webpage. Then the contest to get students to create their own videos began.

Now in its second year, the contest encourages secondary school students across Ontario to imagine their lives without water, and then create a 2-3 minute video clip exploring the importance of water in their lives. The website also has links to careers in water to get students thinking about this critical job market and a possible career as a water professional.

In 2012, more than 2,500 visitors viewed and voted on the videos with more than 130 weekly users (on average) talking about “acareerinwater” on Facebook. 2013 was even better, with 57 submissions and four times as many Facebook page links (from 487 to 1652) and more interaction than ever from students and teachers. More than 9,200 people voted on the videos (an average of 161 per entry).

Based on 2012 statistics, “We learned that more than 2,000 secondary school kids followed the contest on Facebook…those are great results, and we are very happy with the submitted videos,” said OMWA’s Nick Benkovich, one of the video judges.

Personally I was struck with the difference in how this generation views water. “It was interesting to see how today’s youth view the role of water in their lives. To many, water has become something you get from a bottle, not from the tap. I hope this contest fosters greater awareness of the importance of safe, sufficient, sustainable water for all Ontarians.”

With a primary aim to promote the variety of careers available in the water industry, the www.acareerinwater.ca website also contains information on educational requirements and programs available at Ontario colleges and the Walkerton Clean Water Centre. The site also features “water careers” available in government, teaching, research, and more.

The 2013 winners were recently announced. Check out the website and watch the videos from 2012 and 2013- you’ll be amazed at the creativity and knowledge of this next generation of water users (and future water professionals?). With the impending retirement of many of our water professionals, it is up to OWWA and other water-related organizations to stimulate interest in water careers in our high school students.

Emma Murphy, BES, MA, has more than 23 years experience in environmental engineering and communications as an environmental planner, communications facilitator, and sales process manager. In addition to her ‘day job’ for CH2M HILL as a Sales Process Manager, Emma is OWWA President for 2013-2014, where she represents almost 1700 water works professionals across Ontario. She regularly liaises with Ministry of the Environment minister and senior officials on water-related issues, connects with the American Water Works Association, and manages a $1 million + budget and four staff in conjunction with an executive director.