Chris Hailey was between jobs when he applied to be an electrician’s assistant at Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) five years ago. He didn’t have any experience with electricity, but he saw a ReWa facility and decided to apply for whatever jobs were listed.
To his surprise, he was invited for an interview. The interview team, however, acknowledged they made a mistake by inviting him in because he didn’t have a background in electricity. But they wanted to get to know him and his work interests.
Hailey made an impression.
A few weeks later, he received a call from ReWa while he was entertaining a job offer from another company. ReWa asked him to consider participating in a newly established apprenticeship program to develop industrial electricians for the utility.
“I’m glad I took that leap of faith to join this team,” says Hailey, who became a certified electrician in October of 2023. His previous jobs had been in warehouses and manufacturing.
Hailey is one of four ReWa employees who recently completed apprenticeships and were celebrated during a luncheon to recognize them with members of ReWa’s board of commissioners, company leaders, and officials from the United States Department of Labor and Apprenticeship South Carolina.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Joel Jones, ReWa’s CEO. “It’s somewhat self-serving too in that we take their hard work, dedication and resilience to become better employees to make us a better organization and a better community.”
Hailey, like all ReWa apprentices, invested a lot of personal time in completing his apprenticeship. ReWa employees have completed 20 apprenticeships programs since the utility launched the program in 2018.
In addition to the industrial electrician program, ReWa offers its employees apprenticeship programs in wastewater systems operations, conveyance and maintenance and a leadership program.
Hailey’s program was four years, including 18 months of courses through Greenville Technical College. Those days involved working from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at ReWa’s Lower Reedy Water Resource Recovery Facility before going to school from 6 to 10 p.m. The program took 576 hours to complete.
“It was rough at times, but it was worth it,” said Hailey, who was reimbursed by the utility for his tuition and books. “It’s hard work, but in the end, it’s very rewarding. The company will give you the tools to help you get where you want to go.”
Larry Camp, ReWa’s senior process and training leader, has been with ReWa for over 30 years and he’s overseen the apprenticeship program from the start.
“This company wants to help people advance and grow,” Camp said. “This program helps with retention while also developing leaders that help the entire water industry.”
ReWa’s Chief Operating Officer Rebecca West boasts about the apprenticeship program’s role in helping employees challenge themselves as they seek new responsibilities.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself, but it’s about making and creating yourself,” West said while welcoming guests at the luncheon. “Our apprenticeship program is an example of that.”
Patty Carcamo, customer service analyst
Patty Carcamo has worked in ReWa’s customer service department for nearly three years. She participated in the utility’s leadership program, which is a year-long course. She gained additional insight on wastewater management which has been helpful when fielding calls from customers.
“I wanted to evolve in my position and not become stagnant,” Carcamo said. “I also wanted to help our department and the company as a whole by expanding my knowledge.”
Since completing the program, Carcamo has spearheaded the coordination efforts for the launch of a new online portal, which has involved her training her colleagues and external stakeholders.
Paul Schuwer, water resource recovery facility lead operator
Paul Schuwer’s third work anniversary at ReWa will take place in March. Two months ago, he was named a lead operator at ReWa’s Lower Reedy Water Resource Recovery Facility. He also recently completed the utility’s year-long leadership apprenticeship program.
“It helped me become the leader I wanted to become,” Schuwer said. “It’s helped me handle certain situations and learn how to form a stronger team.”
Kai Wolschke, water resource recovery facility lead operator
Kai Wolschke began his career in law enforcement before realizing he needed a change as he saw career opportunities becoming available in wastewater. He’s in his third year at ReWa and his 12th year in the wastewater industry.
He recently completed the utility’s year-long leadership apprenticeship program,
“I thought there was a bigger purpose for me,” said Wolschke of what led him to pursue the apprenticeship program.
Since completing the program, he was named a lead operator at ReWa’s Mauldin Road Water Resource Recovery Facility.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere else,” Wolschke said. “The assistance is there to help you succeed.”