Jon Watson, Vice President at Eramosa Engineering: Insights from an Industry Veteran
May 14, 2019
By: Blake Marchand
After attending Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario for Electrical Engineering Technology and Automated Systems, Jon Watson began as a System Integrator at Eramosa Engineering right out of school. Currently serving as a Vice President, Watson has the rare distinction of spending his entire career with the company that gave him his start in the industry.
“We were a much smaller company back then – about 12 people – and I just took on anything they needed me to do, from drafting to control system integration work, design work, you name it,” he said of his initial position with Eramosa.
Fresh out of school Watson cold called Eramosa and dropped off his resume. Now, nearly 20-years later, he is a Vice President having worked his way through the ranks over the course of his career. Watson spent five years as a System Integrator, he then took on a team leader/project manager role, leading a team of System Integrators. After a few years as a Team Leader and Project Manager, Watson progressed into a Group Leader position.
“A Group Leader at Eramosa is responsible for 3-4 system integrator teams,” he explained, “for me personally it was three, and the focus starts to shift more towards business development and resource planning for the teams under your influence.”
As a VP with Eramosa, Watson focuses more on the human resources and business development side of the company, while still taking the lead on a select group of key projects. When it comes to human resources, the core of his role is finding talent, which can be difficult in a niche industry like Water and Wastewater – and flushing out the requisite skillsets for the human resource team, as well as developing and drafting policies as they relate to the Eramosa team to nurture and promote the culture.
“An ideal project for us would be one where we are leading and have the opportunity to take care of all the electrical design and control system design,” Watson explained, that way they would be able to see the project through the entire design phase as well as the roll out of the tender packages for contractors to bid on.”
“Then from there, supporting the client’s installation through the construction process where we’ll manage or oversee the contractor in a contract admin-type role, but also take care of the PLC (Programable Logic Controller) and HMI (Human Machine Interface) development, the network implementation, being able to leverage all of those skillsets for the installation of the project,” he said, “then we get to see it through end to end.”
Watson noted that they will often have several of those projects on the go throughout the various points of design and implementation.
“Those, I find personally, are the more rewarding ones, especially when you have a new team member coming along,” he said, which allows new hires to “see the fruits of their labour as it goes through, and really learn a lot along the way.”
Obviously, that is not the full extent of the work they do in the water and wastewater sector. “We’ll position ourselves to get onto design teams as sub-consultants, we’ll also pursue standalone programming work,” he noted.
The full scope of the services Eramosa offers is extensive, you can find it HERE. Those services include electrical engineering, electrical studies and reports, instrumentation and control services, IT services, web-based report development services; planning and policy, which includes audits and investigations, cyber security, master plans; their project design and development work includes contract administration, construction management, HMI/SCADA system development and implementation they also provide operations and maintenance work throughout their various areas of expertise.
The bulk of their business is in the Water and Wastewater industry, though Watson said they also operate in renewable energy. “It’s a different client base,” he said, “but the skillset is very transferable.”
They will also do some industrial work from time to time, which is generally through referrals, or electrical contractors they have worked with in the past may bring them in on a project.
So, what are some current trends in the Water and Wastewater industry?
“A big focus coming out of the Water and Wastewater sector is regulatory reporting requirements. When I first started with Eramosa the reports that would come out of SCADA systems were almost an after thought,” Watson explained.
“Now there’s entire projects dedicated to the whole data management regulatory report side of control systems, and it’s gone from simplistic reports generated through scripting and excel, to customized web-based reporting interfaces to help clients better manage their data.”
The amount of data generated with current technologies across all sectors is massive, and so too is the potential of leveraging that data to improve operations. Providing concrete imperial metrics for decision making.
“Putting in these reporting systems allows them to be more proactive in managing that data,” Watson noted, referring to their municipal clients. As an example of the benefit, he explained that “at least once a year, municipal clients are subjected to the scrutiny of the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks.”
“Being more proactive with their data management they have already addressed the issues before it’s flagged by someone else.”
Watson also discussed predictive control as an emerging trend, given the rapid emergence of robotics we asked Mr. Watson if it is advancing at a similar rate.
“There’s been a big push, for several years now, from a lot of the big automation vendors to deal with predictive control, and it’s really, to me, the beginnings of artificial intelligence coming into the process control industry.”
“It has gone beyond predictive control as well, it is now outright called artificial intelligence, there’s companies in the water and wastewater sector specific to those industries looking to gain a foothold – so is it advancing as fast as robotics? I’d say absolutely, just in a different way.”
You now have all these smart systems “processing information from your model and data from your SCADA systems to tell you how to run your plant more effectively.”
He continued, “IoT/IIoT to us is the evolution of SCADA systems moving forward. The building blocks are there from what a traditional SCADA system integrator might have done from a programming standpoint to bring data into a system, now the focus just shifts to being further out into your distribution system to collect more, and relevant information and get it across a communication network up to the cloud – that is also cost effective. Which is a big deal in the whole IoT sphere – and getting that data to the people who need it, whether its people or systems, to make control decisions, maintenance decisions, or whatever else the information may be needed for.”
What are some of the challenges associated with your role as Vice President?
As it is with many niche industries, finding skilled workers with the requisite expertise can be difficult. Adding to that challenge Watson explained, there are only a few college and university programs specific to the industry. The majority of available programs are geared more towards industrial automation. While these programs touch on the required skillset, there is going to be a learning curve with respect to Water and Wastewater. But it also makes it difficult from an awareness perspective, where students may not even be aware of the type of career the industry can offer. And there are certainly plenty of opportunities. It is a sector that can’t be outsourced or relocated overseas very easily, there will always be Water and Wastewater, and it will always require treatment.
“It’s kind of an interesting challenge, because our industry, historically, has been somewhat niche, somewhat small,” said Watson, when they are looking for that person with 10-years experience with the exact skillset they are looking for, it is often the case that they are already employed by Eramosa. They often promote from within, as is the case with Watson himself, however, Eramosa has grown significantly throughout recent years and they continue to grow. “so, it’s a matter of finding people with the right technical background even if it’s not specific to the water and wastewater industry, that will also fit nicely into the Eramosa corporate culture,” he explained.
Finally, we asked Mr. Watson to provide some advice for young people considering a career in the industry, “Everybody’s looking to be a part of something meaningful,” he noted, “here at Eramosa, much more meaningful does it get? We’ve got projects where we’re treating drinking water for people or cleaning wastewater before it’s sent out to the creeks and rivers and lakes – and we’ve got our whole renewable energy sector, keeping the lights on for somebody, somewhere in an environmentally conscious way.”