Advancing in the Wastewater Operator Field

By: JADE Learning | Jan 07, 2021

On a national scale, there are four grades of wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) operator certification; all four grades have different education and experience requirements. These requirements also vary by state. We’ve outlined the general requirements at each grade below.  

WWTP Experience and Educational Requirements  

Grade 1 

To obtain a Grade 1 Operator certification you will need your diploma or G.E.D. and complete a commissionapproved, Grade 1 wastewater treatment operation course. After the completion of this course, all you have to do is pass the Grade 1 examination. Follow these steps, and you will be eligible for Grade 1 Operator certification. 

Grade 1 is all about safety, laws, and regulations. This comes with good old memorization and studying. It’s a good idea to partner up with other operators at this level to form study groups. This is an entry level job, so take some time to soak up all you can from more experienced operators. They’ve been through the exams before, so they are a valuable resource.  

Grade 2 

The educational requirements for Grade 2 Operator certification are similar to Grade 1. You will need a diploma or a G.E.D and 6 months of experience in a Grade 2 or higher wastewater treatment facility. Take the Grade 2 class and pass the Grade 2 examination, and you will be eligible for Grade 2 Operator certification.  

Grade 2 will focus more on the plant process and what each part of a WWTP does. You will learn basic plant monitoring and sampling techniques. The best way to learn and grow at this level is to watch and talk with senior, more experienced operators. You can offer to help them with a task or project in order to gain more experience. Operators who take the initiative to learn and grow will inevitably make more money and have a better career in the wastewater field.  

Grade 3 

Grade 3 certification will require two years of experience in a wastewater treatment facility of Grade 3 or higher. You sit for the Grade 3 class, and then you will need to pass the exam. After the completion of these steps, you will be eligible for Grade 3 Operator certification. 

Grade 3 operators are typically backup operators in charge (BORC). This is a position that reports to the state and carries more responsibility and accountability. You will not only be monitoring the process and collecting data, but also suggesting process changes or making the changes yourself. A good tip here is to learn from the operator in responsible charge (ORC). How do they make decisions on changing plant processes, adding chemicals, or what to do during a plant upsetA good technique is to anticipate what the ORC would do and see if your decisions would align with theirs. This is a way to practice without having the ultimate responsibility.  

Grade 4 

To obtain Grade 4 Operator certification you will need at least three years of experience in a wastewater treatment facility that is level 4. Again, you sit for a class, and then you need to pass the Grade 4 exam to be eligible for Grade 4 certification. 

Grade 4 operator is usually in a senior role or serves as ORC. This is a level that may include financial considerations such as purchasing equipment and supplies. You will be analyzing data and making process control changes. A management course is appropriate at this level. You will be supervising others and will deal with personnel issues. It is a good idea to learn team building and leadership skills as well 

These are the various levels of wastewater treatment and the requirements needed to join each grade. This is a general outline to describe how wastewater treatment facilities operate throughout the country. Your state may have different qualifications or requirements, so make sure to check with your state requirements before working towards the next certification. 

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