The WEAO recently sat down with Alvin Pilobello, Chair of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) Students and Young Professionals Committee, to discuss how students and young professionals can leverage their technical skills and education into a rewarding career in Ontario’s water and wastewater industry.
Alvin is currently a Project Lead in Corporate Asset Management at the City of Brampton and has had lots of experience volunteering for the WEAO and WEF, from initiating McMaster University’s WEAO Student Chapter in 2008 to chairing our Asset Management Committee in 2014-2015 to his most-recent role at WEF. He’s long been an active member in the water community. He’s also become a familiar face.
Many will remember the article Alvin wrote and published in the Fall 2009 issue of INFLUENTS about his conference-filled summer. For those who don’t, he decided to forego a post-graduation summer trip to Europe, opting instead for a summer jam-packed with water and wastewater-related conferences. The motivation for this decision? To network, make professional inroads, and most importantly—to learn.
Not only did he accomplish everything he set out to do, he also ended up kick-starting his career with a job offer from AECOM, an international consulting firm.
“I had six interviewers for the role at AECOM. Because I’d been engaged and active at different WEF/WEAO conferences, we’d already met and talked, so there was a mutual understanding of the values we shared, which made the process easier for both sides,” he explained, adding that all of the roles he’s held have come from networking opportunities hosted by WEF and the WEAO.
For some, networking is easier said than done. Not everyone comes by it naturally. Alvin was no exception here. But difficult, even intimidating situations, are often opportunities for growth, and sometimes the one thing an individual is afraid of doing is the key to unlocking their full potential.
“It’s definitely important to step outside of your comfort zone,” Alvin said. “And one of the things you quickly discover is just how small and supportive our community is.”
When asked what advice he had for students looking to bridge the professional gap, he stressed the importance of getting involved and establishing personal connections with other professionals in the field. He was also careful to add that students and young professionals should approach networking as a learning opportunity.
“Don’t ask someone about a job. Instead, ask about them. Be curious and open. Figure out exactly what it’s like to walk in their shoes. What their values are.”
One of the biggest challenges young people face today is learning to set themselves apart. Everyone has a degree and post-graduates share similar technical skills, which is why it’s so important to learn to sell yourself—your ideas, your values, your potential. It’s also about being well-rounded, developing soft skills, and finding fulfilling hobbies outside of the workplace.
For Alvin, that’s salsa. When he’s not working or volunteering with WEF, he’s a workshop facilitator, dance instructor, and coach. One unintended consequence of his passion for dance, beyond his confidence and outgoingness, is a better understanding of workplace dynamics.
“I use salsa dancing as a metaphor and medium to talk about communication and leadership. Think of it as an organization. Dynamics of following and leading, and how does your team communicate with all the other teams on the floor to avoid collision.”
Throughout his journey, Alvin has learned to see opportunities in every situation. During that summer of 2009, at the AWWA Annual Conference and Exposition in San Diego, he fondly remembers winning an iPod Touch. A rash of good luck, no doubt, but an opportunity as well. When he claimed his prize, he turned to the audience and jokingly announced that he’d trade it for a career. He didn’t get his career—not right away, at least—but he did get people’s attention.
“When you get those opportunities, you have to take them,” he said. “It’s about empowering yourself and giving yourself a chance. By reaching out and getting involved in the WEF/WEAO community, I’ve been able to do just that.”