Generation Z — the group of people born between 1997 and 2012 — is an intriguing and promising one. Many Gen Zers have never lived without social media, texting, and FaceTime, making them part of an interconnected, tech-savvy bunch.
And with memories of watching their parents struggle through the Great Recession (and seeing their Millennial counterparts bogged down by student loans), it’s no surprise that more than 70% of Gen Zers worry about finances. Members of this age group are also part of the “Change Generation.” It’s clear to Gen Z that each and every person plays a role in contributing to broader causes, so its members want to use their careers to improve the world.
Considering that the oldest Gen Zers just entered the workforce, we should consider how those leanings could impact their budding careers. Case in point: We know that financial stress can impact well-being both physically and emotionally. Likewise, Gen Zers facing a lack of meaningful work and less agency in shaping workplace contributions could find themselves unhappy with their careers at best — and burned out at worst.
However, there’s an (often overlooked) job path that’s uniquely suited to Gen Z’s financial and philanthropic needs: a career in the water industry. This industry is unique not only because it offers competitive pay, but also because it enables its workers to touch literally everyone’s lives in a truly meaningful way.
Why Have a Career in Water?
Let’s start with purpose.
Although many of us take water for granted, it continues to be the lifeblood of our economy and society — not to mention key for survival. As a critical but limited resource, water requires protection and strategic management. Water professionals understand this more than anyone else, and their interests are broad.
A career in the water industry relates to a wide range of passions, and the environment, engineering, governmental policy, social justice, and public health are just a few of them. In fact, there’s also ample opportunity in the sector for almost every interest and skill set: A recent report from the Brookings Institution tallied the number of occupations in the water industry to 212, and opportunities range from skilled tradespeople to high-level business specialties and engineering professionals.
For service-minded Gen Zers in particular, though, these jobs can involve both unique day-to-day responsibilities and function as community service roles within their respective localities.
We should also consider the industry’s push for younger workers. With the United States’ water infrastructure aging rapidly, there’s a dire need for fresh workers who want to help repair, restore, and maintain water systems. These processes also happen to involve emerging technologies, which play into Gen Z’s natural strengths.
In addition, one-third of water industry workers will either reach or be close to retirement age in the near future, meaning employers are increasingly hungry for talented young workers as the industry faces this “silver tide.” It bears repeating that a career in water can provide the financial stability these young workers crave. The same Brookings Institution report revealed that infrastructure-related jobs offer competitive pay that’s above the national average, which could help alleviate some of Gen Z’s financial worries.
They also have a lower barrier to entry, as many jobs in the sector don’t require an advanced degree. This is an added benefit for the growing number of Gen Zers choosing not to attend traditional four-year universities.
3 Steps for Launching a Career in Water
If you’re a Gen Zer who wants to start a career in water that will grant you both job stability and the chance to improve the world through your work, the following steps will help you head toward success:
1. Get schooled in the technology. As the water industry ramps up its digital and technological tools — including sophisticated control systems requiring human-machine interaction — tech expertise will only become more in demand. Luckily, Gen Zers are already tech-savvy: You’ve grown up as a digital native.
This makes you an important asset to the water industry as the existing workforce (which tends to be less versed in new technologies) retires. With this, be sure to play up any tech experience you have and read up on industry advances to stay aware. Better yet, try to learn new tech-related skills if you can.
2. Look for alternative educational opportunities. In the water industry, on-the-job education, training, and credentials typically count as much as degrees. Look for ways to get a head start on some of the training or expertise the water industry requires.
Scheduling lunch or coffee with a seasoned water industry worker is always a good idea: He or she can impart a significant amount of knowledge that could help you supplement the skills you bring to the table. It’s also worth noting that more than half of water workers have a high school degree alone. Depending on your interest, an expensive four-year college degree might not even be necessary to get your foot in the door.
3. Deepen your understanding of resources. Many of us take clean water for granted; we turn on the tap, and there it is. But there’s a lot at play behind getting this critical resource from the waterways and into homes. Stay up to date on water issues and the important work the industry is doing to keep it clean and reliable. Where does your locality’s water come from? Where and how is it treated?
Also, consider the risks facing your local infrastructure. Is water scarcity a problem? Is the system aging and in dire need of repairs? How is the water quality in your local schools? By answering these questions and reaching out to your local water utility, state water association, and elected officials, you can broaden your knowledge of water and how your skills can match a need in the industry.
Simply put, the water industry is a perfect match for Gen Zers eager to have a positive influence on the world and anxious about their careers. A job in water marries good pay, the chance to learn valuable skills, and opportunity for a variety of interests. More importantly, careers in this industry help protect and improve one of our most valuable resources.