Canada, Indigenous Populations, People Spotlight, Water

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting the Indigenous market sector leader from our Water business line in Central Canada, providing insight into their inspiration and work.

Based in our Kitchener, Ontario office, Jay Harris is the Indigenous market sector lead in Central Canada for AECOM’s Water business. Jay is driven to advance drinking water projects to improve community health, and wastewater projects to enhance environmental performance. He is dedicated to strengthening and fostering Indigenous infrastructure opportunities and business relationships.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

I’ve had an eclectic career path. At the start of my career, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as an aircraft maintenance technician reaching the journeyman level. I served in Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta before moving on to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). As an RCMP constable, I was temporarily posted to Nunavut to carry out relief staffing in various communities. I later re-enlisted with the RCAF and was invited to contract with an Aboriginal police service to cover staffing and investigation shortfalls. Two years later, I accepted a position at a First Nation in Ontario.

While living in Ontario, I applied for a position at a nuclear power station and eventually earned my Supervising Nuclear Operator qualification in fuel handling. In 2011, I became the first Canadian Aboriginal person to attend the World Nuclear University program and continue to be an active member of the Canadian Nuclear Society.

After retiring from nuclear operations, I provided informal advice and consultation on many energy issues relating to First Nations, while continuing to be a strong proponent of small nuclear reactor technology. These opportunities sparked my interest in energy technology of all types, particularly in water infrastructure, cutting edge technology applications and their impact on human society.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

Since joining AECOM, I have been leading business development activities for the Water business, primarily in Ontario. Though I can’t point to a specific project or assignment I’ve enjoyed the most, the favorite part of my job is knowing that I am advancing access to safe, clean drinking water for First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities. Many have been challenged with long-term drinking water advisories and I’m grateful to be helping to support community infrastructure projects to build a sustainable foundation and increase reliable access to clean drinking water for generations to come.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

Working in a large, global organization like AECOM, I’m grateful for the robust capabilities and resources we can offer. That said, I’m pleased that we can support on-reserve infrastructure throughout the project lifecycle from planning, design, construction management all the way through addressing operations and maintenance needs. More importantly, the transfer of service delivery supports Indigenous communities and organizations by building capacity and readiness – ultimately promoting self-determination for First Nations.

Share a piece of career advice.

I’ve often seen people getting stuck in the wrong career. Sometimes their work doesn’t feel meaningful anymore, or their industry has drastically evolved, or their values and interests have changed. Wherever possible, do something that you like and that makes you feel good. If you think the grass is greener somewhere else, go to the other side of the fence and try chomping on some grass. Always follow your passion!

Jay Harris

Originally published Oct 12, 2022

Author: Jay Harris

Jay is an Indigenous market sector leader from AECOM's Water business line in Central Canada.