EMWD’s Youth Ecology Corps Program Provides Opportunities, Successes

  • by Eastern Municipal Water District
  • Jul 21, 2022

For nearly a decade, Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) has been at the forefront of helping to promote careers in the water industry through an innovative and unique program that engages area youth in a partnership with the Riverside County Workforce Investment Board.

City of Perris Job Shadow Day 3-3-2022

EMWD’s Youth Ecology Corps (YEC) program has been in place since 2013 and has provided young adults in EMWD’s 558-square mile service area the opportunity to work part-time for a 12-week program. Since its inception, several hundred young adults have participated in the program, which allows them to shadow EMWD employees, learn valuable job training skills, and introduces them to the water industry for potential careers.

As the water industry continues to face a “Silver Tsunami” of impending retirements, there has never been a more critical time for the industry to attract, train and retain its next generation of employees.

One of those individuals is Eric Morales, who began his time at EMWD as a Youth Ecology Corps participant and was eventually hired as a full-time employee. Morales, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UC Riverside, currently works in EMWD’s state-certified laboratory as a Scientist III.

Morales recently shared his experiences as part of the Youth Ecology Corps program and how it prepared him for a career in the water industry.

Q: Can you talk about how you started with the YEC program with EMWD?

A: I didn’t really know the program existed in 2017. I saw the flier in the lobby, but that was when I was looking for internships. I spoke to the team at EMWD and they explained what the program was about, and I thought ‘This is something I wanted to do.’ That was how I got started with the YEC program. It had real world implications. I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in.

Q: What stands out most about the YEC program and how it prepared you for job opportunities in the water industry?

A: I think it was the combination of the mentorship as well as the hands-on training and working alongside certified professionals that made it stand out. In other programs, I’ve heard people do busy work. But with the YEC program, you are actually doing the real tasks that a journey level professional will do. I think that’s what stands out most about the program we have here. It allows you to see what the day-to-day responsibilities are and what careers they have here in the water industry.

Q: Can you take us through the process of going from a YEC participant to becoming a full-time EMWD employee?

A: I remember my first day being introduced to everyone in the lab and I was really nervous. I finished my first YEC term, and they called me and said they had a second term available. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, because I knew the longer I stayed here, the more I could learn.

When my term was almost up, the lab manager said he liked the progress I was making, and he saw how beneficial it was having me in the lab. He offered me a temporary position, which I agreed to. That was for six months. During those six months, I was able to take over the tasks and I was doing regular work, which freed up my supervisor at the time so he could work on other projects that he didn’t otherwise have time to do.

After the six months, I was getting ready to apply to other water districts and something opened up here, and I applied. I was hired on as a laboratory technician, collecting water quality samples from throughout the distribution system. I did that for a year and a half, then was able to transition to working inside the lab full-time.

Q: What should people know about participating in an internship or job training program like the YEC program?

A: I think the program works and it is beneficial to both parties involved. On the participant side, you get the benefit of getting an inside look and have real world training with jobs in the water industry. You get your foot in the door to build networking opportunities. For the agency, you get an eager intern willing to learn the trade.

My recommendation to others it to treat every day as an opportunity and learn as much as you can while taking advantage of the resources available to you at the time.

Q: When you look back, how much did participating in the program really set you on the career path you are now on?

A: I think I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the YEC program, I wouldn’t be here at EMWD. I would probably be working at a private lab. I knew I wanted to work in a lab that made a difference, and the YEC program allowed me to see what the lab analysts do here at a major place like EMWD. If it wasn’t for the Youth Ecology Corps, I wouldn’t be here.

Things just fell into place. It is crazy that things just worked out how they did. It is still unbelievable to me.

Q: What else should people know about the program and your experiences?

A: Programs like this work. I remember when I was looking for opportunities five years ago, I didn’t see many of these programs out there. I think people should know that more companies should have programs like this in place. EMWD has taken the initiative to take a chance on interns and allow them these kinds of opportunities. You can mold these interns into the ideal colleague you want. It really is beneficial to both parties involved.