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Why the water sector is the perfect fit for this young professional

For young water professional (YWP) Sarah Norman, working in the water sector is a chance to give back to the community.

As an Asset Reliability Engineer at Unitywater in Queensland, she helps ensure the utility’s sewage infrastructure and assets perform well.

“I look after an asset from the time it is commissioned until we replace it, managing the risk of failures and faults along the way,” she said.

“In the case of sewage treatment plants (STP), that would be a licence breach, a negative impact on the environment or a safety risk.”

She said being able to interact with different teams across the business – from electricians and fitters to STP operators and engineers – was one of the best parts of the job.

“I love having relationships with all these people and finding out what they think about the systems and processes,” she said.

“I’m only two years out of uni, so obviously I lack a lot of experience, but everyone shares their knowledge and thoughts with me.”

Working with people who have been in the water sector longer than she has been alive also provides an interesting counterpoint to her own experiences. 

“I always keep in mind that the way I see something isn’t necessarily the way someone else sees something,” Norman said.

“There’s a big age gap between the graduates and the bulk of our workforce, but it’s interesting because of the historical knowledge. A lot of people have worked through different periods, technologies and ways of thinking.

“They know everything that’s happened, while we’re coming in blind – we don’t know the journey the business has been on.”

Norman is one of more than 100 YWPs heading to Brisbane next month for the Australian Water Association’s YWP Conference. Over two days, attendees will hear different ‘water stories’ from their peers, including the 2019 YWP of the Year, Matt Robertson, and SMEC engineer Karina Thiele.

Along with the technical presentations, the conference is also a great chance to network with other YWPs and perhaps offer each other some career advice.

For Norman, the best advice is to figure out what you’re passionate about.

“This might not even be a role, but just something you want in your life,” she said.

“For a young professional, it can seem like a waste if you turn down an opportunity. But if you know what you’re passionate about, it will make it a lot easier to decide if something is right for you.”

With a passion to make a difference, she said the water sector was the right place to be – particularly as emerging challenges will require new ways of doing things.

“My whole outlook on life and my career is to add value where I can,” she said.

“In my opinion, the water sector adds a lot of value to the local community, the environment and humanity as a whole.”

Don't miss the 2020 AWA/IWA Australia-New Zealand Young Water Professionals Conference, held in Brisbane from 12-13 March. To learn more and to register, click here.