Do you remember what it was like when you began your career in the water industry? I sure remember my humble start. While water treatment was exciting to me, it required learning new industry terms, technologies and jargon. The more I tried to learn, the more I ran into opposition, I encountered a wall of ignorance, which gave the impression that there were only a small number of people that knew anything useful and they were hesitant to teach what they knew for fear of being surpassed by a neophyte. In the days before Amazon, Wikipedia and Google, it was laborious and time-consuming to research technical information, particularly about our niche industry.

The WQA educational system was significantly lacking in those days. Joseph Harrison’s excellent Water Treatment Fundamentals compilation wasn’t even in general circulation yet and I felt like the conventions were more focused on parties and product promotion than true professional development. The real experts with the academic and practical knowledge were unreachably far away until I met my first technical mentor in the industry, C. F. Chubb Michaud. He took the time to answer my numerous ignorant questions without judgment or reservation and treated me like a peer. I have never forgotten and still appreciate the time and knowledge he gave so freely without expectation of anything in return.

The WQA has come a long way in the last 20 years. With almost 3,000 members encompassing residential, commercial and industrial segments of the industry, the WQA is now recognized globally as the leading trade organization; serving to inform the public, educate members and certify products to the highest standards of performance and sustainability. The most exciting thing (to me) that the WQA has accomplished so far is to develop the Modular Education Program (MEP). Training is one of the best investments a business can make, but group training or individual sessions can certainly become expensive, and involve significant time and travel commitments. Using MEP, instead of flying in an expert, or sending people to seminars, all company members are able to train individually at their own pace, being able to start or stop at any time of the day or night as time permits, by leveraging the power and convenience of the internet.

The MEP is designed to provide businesses with the educational and ethical resources needed to train all employees at all levels, to the most current industry standards and best practices. Businesses can now have the confidence of knowing that everyone on the team can have the same foundational cornerstones of knowledge, with a virtually unlimited learning path that continues to evolve as new knowledge emerges in the industry. The MEP includes Foundational, Core and Advanced categories of training and certification. This smart structure allows a broad base of participation, where everyone can be involved in learning together and be recognized with achievement badges for their knowledge and experience. Office staff, installers, technicians, system designers and salespeople alike have the opportunity to learn.

Anyone in an organization that is subscribed to the program can learn anything from the Knowledgebase at any time, regardless of the level of information and whether they want to be officially certified or not. This is truly visionary, since nobody is constrained by prerequisites or silly rules when searching for a piece of valuable information to help with a project or customer inquiry. Obviously, if one wants to earn a badge for a particular area of knowledge, they need to learn and prove knowledge of the segment in the sequence that WQA requires. Badges are earned by completing lessons, taking on-line tests and sometimes completing practical tasks to demonstrate the knowledge and mastery of a subject. In addition to individual badges, program attendees can also follow multiple education tracks to earn core certifications, such as:
• Certified Water Treatment Representative for office staff, sales and marketing personnel
• Certified Installer for equipment installers
• Certified Service Technician for service technicians
• Certified Water Specialist for system integrators and designers

Anyone can change their educational path at any time and they can study anything they want, as long as they fulfill the minimum requirements and take the appropriate test to earn each certification desired.

What is a mentor?
The term mentor originates in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus asked his friend Mentor to protect his son Telemachus while Odysseus went to the Trojan War. Twenty years later, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, disguised herself as Mentor to provide with Telemachus crucial advice at the beginning of the next epic story: to investigate what actually happened to his father.

Mentoring in all aspects of life is a proven pathway to success and makes for mutually beneficial relationships. Something I especially appreciate about MEP is the fact that all learners choose a mentor to help them through the learning adventure. That mentor is someone who already has the educational credentials that the learner is seeking and meets the ethical requirements of the program. The mentor’s role is to guide the learner to success by reviewing their learning experiences to reinforce correct learning and guiding them in the right direction when they stray.

Here are some things to consider about the benefits of being a mentor:
1. You’re making the industry better.
We all know the old-school slick salesperson who has a voice larger than their brain; you know, the one who says stupid things about water because they couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual facts. People like that cause problems for everyone. We need to stamp out ignorance by helping everyone learn the correct facts, which enhances competition, improves the image of our industry and can prevent adoption of intrusive legislative policies.

2. You’re making someone’s life better.
Knowledge is power and by sharing your knowledge or merely guiding another to the knowledge they need, you are now empowering them to succeed at their job. We all have families to feed and in today’s cut-throat economy, we all need as much knowledge as possible to get ahead.

3. You’re going to learn things.
I know you think you know a lot about water, but wait until you go through the latest training materials. They were created in collaboration with industry innovators and leaders; I guarantee you’ll have a few “Aha!” moments as you go through the materials with your staff.

4. Your business will be more profitable.
Where your mind goes, the money usually follows. As you focus on the fundamentals and draw strength from seeing your team progress, your business will be more productive, since there are less callbacks, less misinformation, happier employees and happier customers.

Mentoring in your own organization is self-serving and very easy to justify. If you care about the advancement of our industry, you should also consider offering your services as a Volunteer Mentor and join a group of industry professionals who make themselves available to those members seeking to learn but lack an in-house mentor. If you’re ready to help out, send an email to education@wqa.org and apply to join the specialist group of peer mentors who are helping to shape the industry for tomorrow.
The most important takeaway
As mentor to those in my organization and learners in a few other companies, I’ve found the experience to be beneficial, far outweighing the time commitment. Mentoring has given me more opportunities to interact professionally, observe where we’re lacking in training our people and has helped to identify hidden talents in employees that I might never have seen without significant field training time. Employees in my own company as well as employees and owners in the companies that I coach have been enrolled in the MEP for a year now and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the learning process evolve. Naturally, as with all new things, there were some teething problems, but the WQA educational team were quick to respond with improvements and advice to make the experience better and the platform more functional. It is very motivating to hear employees speaking confidently to clients about water quality improvement, using the correct terminology and sharing accurate information when discussing the products and services that will improve their client’s water and lifestyle. If you haven’t enrolled your company in the MEP yet, go to http://www.wqa.org/mep or call (603) 505-0160 – they even have a one week free trial available (for a limited time) if you still need more convincing about what a great program this is. Seek out and embrace new knowledge, but don’t be selfish or greedy with it. The more we teach, the more we learn.
Additional Reading
Collins, Jim, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, 2001
Block, Lazlo, Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, 2015