AS THE WATER utility sector struggles to find skilled employees to fill vacancies created through retirement and other factors, Eric Garcia symbolizes one solution: hiring military veterans. Not only did Garcia—a decorated Air Force veteran—get his position as manager of operations for the Camrosa Water District in Camarillo, CA, through a headhunter focusing on junior military officers, but he is serving as a connection between the water utility sector and veterans for the American Water Works Association’s Veterans Workforce Initiative. The program investigates ways to help veterans get water industry jobs, leveraging their technical expertise and experience working nontraditional hours in a regulated environment. Other values veterans bring to the table include teamwork, hard work, and service before self, notes Garcia.
Since starting in October 2016, Garcia has hit the ground running in for Camrosa. His staff of up to 12 employees provides potable and non-potable water and sanitation services to more than 8,000 service connections representing 35,000 customers in a 32-square mile area through an infrastructure of 208 miles of water pipe and 30 miles of sewer pipe in a system built in the 1960s. Garcia oversees a $13 million annual operational budget and capital improvement projects. Garcia has saved the water district millions through several initiatives, including directing its first preventative maintenance program leveraging data analytics to create a proactive posture, resulting in a 60% increase in work completion; two robust financial analyses to develop budgetary forecasts, bringing operations 9% under budget; spearheading capital project budgeting, scheduling, accountability, and priority transformation, resulting 15% project delivery improvement; and completing five backlogged projects. He has shared his asset management and GIS knowledge at industry conferences. Garcia led an effort of six new hires after identifying talent gaps and developing new selection processes.
What He Does Day to Day
Garcia’s days are spent setting goals and priorities and ensuring the utility is on budget. While he’s in the office 70% of the time, the other 30% he is in the field checking on a project or a leak and ensuring crews have what they need to execute their tasks.
What Led Him Into This Line of Work
Garcia earned a B.S. in aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and an executive MBA from Texas A&M University, graduating summa cum laude. Garcia is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in dispute resolution through the University of Southern California law school to build upon the leadership and teamwork soft skills he learned in the military. While most people hire for technical skills, what gets the job done are soft skills, Garcia says. “Much of the water industry is governed by a legal background and being a public agency. The ability to negotiate well has led many people’s success, particularly in water rights and contract negotiations.” Garcia’s military positions include chief of training for the US Air Force at Fort Drum, NY; air liaison officer providing air capabilities subject matter expertise to senior USMC/Army commanders; executive officer, flight commander, and chief of scheduling/assistant flight commander in Fort Bliss, TX; and space systems developmental engineer/technical intelligence analyst for the USAF at Wright-Patterson AFB.
What He Likes Best About His Work
Garcia enjoys responding to his job’s leadership challenges, adding, “The water industry has a tough set of challenges and needs leaders to guide people though them.” He leads peers many years older than him. “You’re given a tremendous amount of responsibility at a really young age in the military regardless of your rank,” he says, adding it takes much longer to get to that level in the civilian world.
His Greatest Challenge
Having a limited amount of time, money, and human resources is Garcia’s greatest challenge. “The work doesn’t stop—it only grows,” he says. “It’s overcoming shortfalls and finding the resources to do all that is needed with our aging infrastructure as the demands keep growing. We’re very ambitious in what we want to do. Our amazing operations and staff are dedicated professionals and have a sense of service just like in the military. The fun part is working together as a team to figure out how to overcome those situations.”