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We're all in this to better the water industry: An interview with Natalie Wilson
Kristen McGillivray, Western Canada Water
Excuse me while I try not to gush about my next interview guest, Natalie Wilson. Natalie is a Senior Process Engineer with AECOM Canada Ltd in Winnipeg and holds a Bachelor of Science in Biosystems Engineering and a Master’s in Civil Engineering. When I think of someone who continuously goes above and beyond, it’s her (all while balancing work, volunteering and being a busy mom of two). I’ve had the fortunate experience to get to know Natalie through her role as the current Vice President of Western Canada Water and Past Chair of the Western Canada Water Environment Association. She has been a wonderful mentor to not just me but several others across the water industry (Go read Sam’s bio, another one of Natalie’s mentee’s).
Q. What was your first job after graduation? Did you learn anything that you couldn’t in a classroom?
A. My first job after graduation was with an engineering consulting firm. In that job I learned about how the construction process actually happens, and how important strong communication skills are is in all daily interactions. While we had to do presentations and group projects in school, that was only baby steps for what happens once you’re out of school.
Q.What sparked your interest to pursue a career in the water industry? Can you describe a moment where you realized this was the field you wanted to work in?
A. I’ve known that I’ve wanted to work in the water industry since I was small. My mom was a soil conservationist and helped with protecting waterways through proper land development. I was likely 6 or 7 and my mom had stopped our truck along a field that had a very poor stormwater drainage. A lot of water was quickly washing off, and with it the precious topsoil. She pointed out the impact that this poor stormwater drainage was having on the use of the field for crops. That constant background of looking at the environment, water and soils, drove me to be interested in the water industry. I knew that I wanted to be in the environmental field but didn’t quite know where I would end up.
Working in Water
Q. What excites you most about working in the water industry?
A. Working in the water industry has given me a chance to make an impact on the environment in a positive way. Even through the difficult tasks, I know that what I’m working towards bettering the surroundings of others, for long term benefits.
Q. What are your go-to time management strategies?
A. I write a lot of lists. One for the week, one for the day. As I complete one item, I cross out the task, and it feels great! Small senses of accomplishment move me throughout my day. Sometimes it also helps to disconnect to get certain tasks done. I’ve learned that the world will not likely end if I put aside my email and phone for a few hours.
Q. What advice do you have for women interested in becoming an Operator or Engineer?
A. Women should not be intimidated by the Water industry. Just talk to one of the many strong women who already work in the industry, and we’ll tell you that gender equality is very prevalent. I have never let the male/female discussion stop me; we’re all just in this to better the water industry.
Q. How do you respond to constructive criticism?
A. I’ve gotten better about actually listening, and not becoming defensive. It still takes some work, but its important to remember that we’re all just learning as we go, trying to become better at our careers.
Q. Did you ever experience any uncertainty that this was the right career path for you?
A. Yes, absolutely! I was lucky enough to try out a different job within my same company when I was early in my career. At that time, I thought that I really, really wanted to be something different. However, after my trial switch, I knew that my original job was much better suited for me, and I was able to switch back. And I haven’t looked back since.
Q. Do you have a mentor? How important do you think mentorship is?
A. Mentorship is very important. I’ve been lucky enough to have several people I consider mentors and can ask for advice, and discuss issues that have come up. Being able to learn from my mentors past stories and advice, has given me a chance to excel at what I do today.
Q. What do you think the key to being a leader is?
A. Listening to others. You can’t lead a team if you don’t understand where people are coming from. Leadership takes the skills of the others around you and develops those to better the people, and whatever project, or group, you’re working with.