| Career Zone -- Hire a veteran to get the job done
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Career Zone -- Hire a veteran to get the job done

By Stuart Karasik, Ph.D.

Career ZoneVeteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada are opportunities to honor the many difficult, if not ultimate, sacrifices made by our veterans to ensure our ongoing freedoms.  

In addition to my individual gratitude, I’m proud of the American Water Works Association’s efforts to appreciate and support veterans. About 20 years ago, AWWA established what is now known as the Workforce Strategies Committee, which recognizes the unique value of the military and veteran communities as an excellent resource for future employees.

The committee established AWWA’s Veterans Workforce Initiative, of which I’m a part, to educate veterans about career opportunities in the water sector and streamline their recruitment into open positions.

These efforts recently resulted in a big win in California – thanks largely to U.S. Navy veteran and Otay Water District Assistant Chief of Operations Jose Martinez. He initiated California legislative victorya multi-organizational campaign that culminated in passage of state legislation allowing U.S. veterans to receive credit for military education, training and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in California. This concept is known as reciprocity. 

(Pictured from left, Mark Balmert, executive director and retired U.S. Navy, San Diego Military Advisory Council; Jose Martinez, assistant chief of water operations, Otay Water District; Christy Guerin, board secretary, San Diego County Water Authority; and Assemblymember Todd Gloria, 78th District)

Calling for reciprocity of military credentials

As background, the United States requires individuals seeking employment in the water and wastewater industry to complete college-level courses and pass state certification exams. This includes active military and veteran candidates who already have the technical skills and experience to successfully perform as a water operator. 

Without reciprocity for their military education and training, veterans must again complete required coursework and wait to take the certification exams. This is expensive and can take months, if not years, by which time the veteran often accepts a position in another field.

Fortunately, recent advancements are opening the door to reciprocity of military credentials in the private sector. The federal government now allows individuals with the military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to receive a state CDL without testing. States including Idaho, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington have passed legislation or developed processes to enable separating military and veterans to receive comparable credit for their training and experience toward state certifications.  

AWWA’s Veterans Workforce Initiative set out to establish reciprocity of military credentials for water and wastewater system operator certifications. The effort focused on California, because the Association’s California/Nevada Section has an active Veterans Committee and there are several large military bases in the region where veterans re-enter the civilian world.

AWWA and veteran leader join forces

Despite AWWA’s best efforts, this effort was stuck in neutral until I connected with Jose Martinez (pictured right), a mechanical engineering graduate of the U.S. Naval Jose  Martinez in the U.S. NavyAcademy who served as an officer on nuclear submarines. 

Jose, an AWWA member, was leading a joint effort between Otay Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority to introduce state legislation – Assembly Bill 1588 -- establishing reciprocity of military education, training and experience in water treatment, distribution and related fields in California. 

In February 2019, Jose and I met to coordinate his legislative efforts with those of AWWA’s Veterans Workforce Initiative. We were on the same page as to the value veterans could provide the industry if they had easier access to water sector jobs.  

In the ensuing months, Otay and the Water Authority researched, reviewed and proposed revisions and amendments to the language of the bill. They enlisted two assembly members to co-author the legislation, and they gained local, state and national support from organizations representing water, veterans, education, communities and chambers of commerce. 

From state success to national effort

After months of tireless effort, the bill was unanimously approved by the California State Legislature. On Oct. 12, 2019, it was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom and goes into effect in January 2020.

I don’t know how Jose accomplished all of this while still working full time and being a terrific husband and father, but he did! Moving forward, he continues to work at the state level as cochair of the California-Nevada Section’s newly established V.E.T. Committee.

AWWA’s Veterans Workforce Initiative is now focused on introducing and passing similar legislation in every state. The heavy lifting is just beginning but can lead to many more qualified separating military and veterans joining our water workforce.

We entrusted the job to a veteran, who got the job done in record time. Your organization should do the same.

Stuart Karasik spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s degree in biology, and was the training program manager for the City of San Diego.