By Kate Simmonds, CH2M HILL Australia/New Zealand Region Sustainability Coordinator and Project Manager
Every day many of our colleagues donate time volunteering to organizations for a number of reasons: to help improve the lives of others; to see change in policies and practices in areas they are passionate about; to foster the growth and development of people in our industry; and to promote the water industry to the broader community. However, every day, many more do not volunteer. In the 21st century we seem to be even busier than ever before, so why would we donate our precious time and volunteer? Well if the reasons above aren’t enough, it turns out volunteering is as good for your career as it is to those you help. Here’s my personal experience of how getting involved in the industry, and volunteering my time, has paid back in droves.
Humble beginnings – When I first began working almost 10 years ago, I immediately signed up to be part of a young professionals group at the company I was working for at the time. The group was led by a senior manager who was passionate about fostering graduate engineers, and getting them chartered, assigned to mentors, and engaged and interested at work. When he retired I decided to put my hand up and take over the group. I wasn’t a senior chartered engineer, but I was passionate about supporting graduates through the process the same way I had. In this role I oversaw a number of new initiatives to better integrate graduates and senior staff and encourage graduate career progression, including a rotation program, an internal newsletter, a mentoring program and practice interviews for graduates seeking to become chartered. Through this program I also promoted careers in the industry at a number of school and university career days, and was given opportunities to speak at national conferences. Senior management took notice of the work I was doing and paid it back with spot bonuses, exciting project opportunities and overseas training. The best part of all was that to me it wasn’t work; I loved helping other graduates out, and growing my own career and personal skills at the same time.
Volunteering for a “BIG” committee – After working in Australia for a few years I was given the opportunity to become involved with the Water Sustainability Specialist Network of the Australian Water Association (AWA). The network was fantastic and shared many ideas. However, day-to-day I was seeing many challenges that my clients were facing in getting innovative projects off the ground, and being a member of the AWA and a volunteer with the Specialist Network wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more and help shape the policies and practices of the water industry, so in 2010 I stood for the AWA Victorian Branch Committee – electing to go for the “big” committee, rather than the young professionals—as I was keen to see an integrated Committee with a mix of youth and experience. I was successful in my nomination and assigned to the member services area of the committee. After a year of volunteering I was elected Chair of the Member Services Sub-Committee. I also volunteered extra time to the Policy arm of the committee, researching and writing submissions on water reuse guidelines in Victoria, Australia (a topic I was very passionate about).
Raising the profile of the water industry – I’ve been really fortunate to do what I love, and love what I do, cheesy as it may sound. As a result I’ve wanted to promote careers in the industry to others and influencing careers in water needs to begin early in a person’s life. As a result I’ve volunteered time to talk to schools and high school students about careers in water, including involvement with the World Water Monitoring Challenge. And, let’s be honest—playing with kids and water kits is a great way to spend a work day! Obviously these volunteer days can’t be achieved without the support of the company, and I feel very fortunate that CH2M HILL is so supportive and encouraging when it comes to investing in our communities.
Improve your networks and get noticed – The majority of career development and progression opportunities arise from your personal networks. Volunteering exposes you to people you might not have met otherwise and offers a whole new world of qualified and valuable connections. I’ve found volunteer relationships to be particularly beneficial as many of the volunteers you interact with are usually driven, conscientious professionals who can be a great referral. In my experience, the most successful people in the world dedicate their efforts to a cause that extends beyond them, and your seniors and peers are well aware of this. In this competitive world, volunteering not only provides you the opportunity to showcase your talents and experiences, but it also allows you to demonstrate compassion and commitment.
The end result – So if love of the job, industry, promotion of colleagues, career progression, skill development, and fun with graduates and kids doesn’t float your boat, perhaps this will…all of my activities have added up to one of my greatest career accomplishments to date—being named 2012 AWA Young Water Professional of the Year for the state of Victoria, Australia. The award recognizes young water professionals who have had outstanding career achievements to date and who have the potential to play a large and influential role in the water industry. This is an award I wouldn’t have stood a chance of winning if it wasn’t for giving a bit – but I still feel like I’ve received a lot more in return.
Kate Simmonds is a Project Manager who has been with CH2M HILL for almost 5 years, after moving to Australia from New Zealand. Kate is based in our Melbourne Office and has spent time working on major programs interstate and in the UAE since joining CH2M HILL. Kate is the acting Australia/New Zealand (ANZ) Region Sustainability Coordinator and Victorian Project Deliver Lead. Day to day Kate manages a variety of Water Business Group Projects in Australia, from odour treatment to co-digestion and cogeneration projects.