Katherine Reid joined the Association’s mentoring program in 2014 to gain a fresh perspective on the water industry. When she was paired with Glenn Sorensen, a water professional steeped in industry experience as wide as it is deep, Katherine found her outlook expanded, both in her options and in how to reach them.
I’ve had mentors myself assisting me through professional situations and development. Mentoring is a very good thing for anyone to be involved with. I feel like it is always an essential part of industry and professional development of people. So naturally, being a part of the Association, I wanted to support that.
Our arrangement was more informal. We would catch up over coffee and discuss whatever matters might arise. It could be positions of interest to her, or insight to my career pathway and experiences that I have had. These various discussions would usually lead to aspirations that she might have and where she wanted to go with her career. We also talked about other involvements − not just professional work, but also the benefits that I’ve found in being involved with the Association.
I certainly wasn’t a subject matter expert for Katherine. I was providing a different viewpoint, because I come from a broader background than a lot of other water professionals. I’ve been involved with other types of utilities. For example, I’m now involved with the gas industry, but there are a lot of similarities in the water industry that follow across to my area of work. Career pathways change a lot in today’s world. I’ve been involved with different industries and I’ve been able to impart my experience onto Katherine.
The AWA mentoring program certainly gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own goals and practices. With mentoring or coaching, you need to consider the approach and the style that you take for that particular person, so there’s a development aspect in it for me as well. Even though I’ve mentored in the past, it’s always new for every single person. The experience also gave me exposure to fresh ideas that she has had, and also the challenges that a new graduate coming into the workforce has at this time.
Katherine has been very accommodating in the needs that both of us have, and that’s been great. I’ve found her open and transparent with sharing information regarding what she’s doing on a professional level. She has also been very proactive, which I commend her on. Katherine is involved with professional bodies like the AWA and also takes an active role with the Young Water Professionals. She sits with the overall AWA SA Committee and relays to us what the YWPs are up to. I think they’re all very positive steps that she’s taken that will aid her through her professional development. From what I have seen of her technical approach to work, it’s been exemplary and quite impressive.
Being part of the mentoring program is really about being a part of a relationship, one that needs to be based on mutual respect and trust. I’ve been fortunate enough to have this with Katherine. I commend the organisers who decided to link us up.
Mentee: Katherine Reid
I’ve been in the water industry for about five years now. I started out as a graduate with SA Water, and eventually moved into an ongoing role as a Treatment Performance Analyst in Wastewater Operations. I analyse wastewater treatment performance data and then carry out optimisation activities to make sure our wastewater treatment plants are working at their best. I’ve been on the AWA SA YWP Committee for the last three years.
In the water industry we’re constantly told to build relationships. For me, it’s important to build relationships in the with people outside of my workplace. I decided to join the mentoring program because I wanted to find someone I could run things by, to get different perspectives and to learn how to navigate the water industry as well.
This is my first go at a formal mentoring program. I’ve had people who I’ve worked with that have become somewhat informal mentors – people you can discuss things with, but again, they were all people that I worked with directly. The AWA mentoring program allows you to be paired with somebody who’s not in your workplace, which gives you an outsider’s perspective.
I’m not really a big fan of building relationships based purely on progression. I think a lot of people will go into mentoring relationships thinking, ‘I’m going to get paired up with this person who’s more senior in the industry, and maybe I’ll get an opportunity out of it or make a contact’. But, for me, I just wanted to see if I could establish an easygoing relationship with somebody I could discuss different ideas with.
Glenn and I decided that we’d meet each other on more of an ad hoc basis. We both understood that life gets busy. If I realised we hadn’t seen each other for a little while, I’d shoot Glenn an email and he’d do the same. Rather than follow a particular structure, we keep our sessions quite casual. We talk about what we’re up to with projects we’re working on. We often talk about any challenges we are having. A lot of our conversations are about the relationships we are building in our respective organisations and how we go about our learning there.
A lot of what we talk about is really sharing stories and lessons learned.
We don’t really go into the technical side of work. We talk a lot about where we’re going with our careers. I was interested to see how Glenn had progressed through his career and the different paths he’d taken.
What I’ve learned from Glenn is that it’s okay to take a different path, things happen in the way they’re going to happen and you have to be willing to take opportunities as they come. I’ve learned the importance of being able to think outside the box. Recently, I’ve run into two opportunities to move sideways in my career, which I discussed with Glenn.
It really helped to be able to tease out my own thoughts and reservations, and then to hear Glenn’s point of view. This helped me rethink my approach to what I was doing. I think our mentoring relationship is built on respect. I know I sure have a lot of respect for Glenn as he is really grounded.
We have been a mentoring pair for about two years. It’s been a while, but we still catch up. I would certainly recommend the mentoring program to any other young professionals, even just as a means of gaining a different perspective on the vastness of the water industry and the different areas that you can work in. The water industry is bigger than your workplace. Being paired with somebody from elsewhere, or a different background, is really valuable. I think it’s really good to have someone as a mentor, but it’s great when you can count them as a friend too.
First published in Current magazine November 2016.
To get involved in the Australian Water Association’s mentoring program, contact your local branch.