By: Katie Zheng, P.E., PMP, Planning Manager for Texas Water Utilities
Texas’ civil engineers are creating a foundation for industrial development and economic opportunity in local communities. At Texas Water Utilities, we celebrate National Engineers Week–from February 19-25–to raise awareness for the engineering profession and to promote engineers’ important role in ensuring that the future water needs of Texas are met. To do that, our industry needs to highlight career opportunities across Texas to support a diverse range of people entering the water utility workforce. This is something I learned about in my role as a former co-chair of the Workforce Development Committee at the Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 3,400 openings for environmental engineers each year, on average, over the next decade. Many of these openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who exit the labor force. As an entire generation of water and wastewater engineers nears retirement, we will need a well-educated and diverse workforce to replace them. If we don’t, we risk falling behind as new development continues at a rapid rate in Texas.
I have seen firsthand the importance of clean and reliable water during a crisis. When I was young, my hometown in Northeast China experienced a benzene spill from an explosion at a petrochemical plant upstream, which contaminated our major water source. Millions of people didn’t have access to the municipal water system for five days until the pollutant concentrations in the river had declined below permissible levels. A group of engineers and scientists restored potable water to our community, and their work inspired me to pursue civil and environmental engineering.
Today communities face new challenges including growth, an increase in extreme weather events and finite water supply. It is essential to find creative solutions to these challenges, such as securing water supply, maintaining infrastructure and increasing systems resilience. Engineers play a crucial role in achieving these objectives and ensuring the sustainability and safety of water and wastewater systems.
The water sector provides ample opportunities for students to develop cross-disciplinary skills and learn how to design systems that are more resilient to withstand extreme weather conditions. Engineers will create technologies to make water resources more efficient, reduce waste, energy or water usage, and secure long-term water supplies. Water and wastewater engineers also earn competitive wages and can work independently in both the office and the field.
For those interested in working in the water sector, Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT) offers various programs at Texas Water 2023 to enhance diversity and inclusion in the water workforce and provide students with the skills, experience, and connections they need to succeed in their chosen field after graduation. These programs include InFLOW (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water) and free guided tours.
Texas Water Utilities is hiring and committed to providing quality employment opportunities for Texans. I hope that the essential role that engineers play in our community will inspire students and professionals to join our industry, just as they inspired me.