In my almost eight years with Illinois American Water’s water quality team, my role has been, in the simplest of terms, to help safeguard our customers. There’s nothing more important to me and my team. We know at the end of every pipe is a family drinking, cooking and cleaning with the water we treated, tested and delivered to their home. To be a part of so many people’s daily lives, to deliver the essential ingredient for so many things—morning coffee, summer lemonade stands, family dinners—this is personal to us. We do not take the trust placed in us lightly. We’re proud of the work we do every day.
We are also proud of our efforts to grow our own talent and encourage future scientists. Currently, there is a significant talent shortage facing the water industry. According to America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative: A Call to Action prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2020:
“One of the major challenges facing our nation is the critical and unprecedented staff shortage in the water workforce that operates and maintains our essential drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. In the next five to 10 years, water sector workers will be eligible to retire at levels that will stress our ability to operate this critical infrastructure.”
Knowing this firsthand, it’s critical that we build our future workforce. It’s also a great opportunity to create partnerships to inspire and, hopefully, recruit new employees.
Opportunities For Community Outreach
This is a personal passion of mine. I remember becoming interested in science when I was very young. I could pretty easily grasp scientific topics and concepts. If there was a process, a “why” and scientific proof, it appealed to me. I knew I wanted a future in science, but there weren’t a lot of female role models to look to as I pursued that path. So, it is important for me to champion young minds and encourage our young customers to learn about drinking water, wastewater and the science behind these essential services.
I’m grateful to Illinois American Water for affording my colleagues and me the opportunity to volunteer in the community and at schools. Personally, I partner with Junior Achievement of Central Illinois, the Sun Foundation’s Clean Water Celebration and the Boy Scouts, among others. I believe our greatest ambassadors for safe drinking water and environmental standards are young students. They are sponges for information—they soak it up and share with their parents, grandparents and siblings.
It’s also important that we continue outreach beyond grade school and junior high school. At Illinois American Water, we partner with Illinois Central College, Bradley University, Woodruff Career & Technical Center, the Peoria Educational Region For Employment and Career Training (P.E.R.F.E.C.T.) program and others. We explain how to get a water operator license and discuss the careers available in the water and wastewater industry—not only in water quality and production, but also in distribution and the meter shop. From these partnerships, we’ve had the opportunity to hire local students to join our team. These partnerships are critical to growing our own talent right here in Peoria!
A Transformative Experience
At all ages, I’ve seen firsthand the transformation in students when science is introduced to them. The impact of a positive influence and someone taking the time to mentor them is meaningful and rewarding. I hope I am impacting all of them—the young men and ladies—but it’s especially rewarding when another female gets the spark for science like I did. PM
Pam Ingersoll-Goede is the environmental compliance and water quality lead for Illinois American Water’s Western and Eastern divisions. You can view her recent educational video, created for The Sun Foundation’s Clean Water Celebration virtual classroom at sunfoundation.org.