Recruiting Water and Wastewater Operators: Tips for Future Employees

By: Adam Stephenson | Jun 03, 2022

“Communities across the nation are having a hard time recruiting the next generation of water and wastewater operators. In the next five to 10 years, more than half of the most skilled water professionals will retire, taking decades of institutional knowledge with them.” – TPO Magazine

Did you read the quote? Treatment Plant Operator Magazine reports over 50% of the water operator workforce will retire in 5 to 10 years. There’s a problem and an opportunity in that quote. For managers, it’s a problem losing a large, experienced workforce. For those who are currently unemployed or will be seeking employment after school, this is a fantastic opportunity to find a career. We will discuss why wastewater is a good career choice, what skills and knowledge an operator needs and finally how to find your first job in the water/wastewater field.  

Why Work in Wastewater? 

Water/wastewater careers are very stable. One reason for the substantial number of retirees is because of that stability, they stayed and made a career out of being an operator. The pay range and benefits are also attractive. There are many facets to being a wastewater operator, you could work in a laboratory setting, office setting, and/or outdoor setting. There is a variety of experiences to be learned by an operator who takes initiative. Many municipalities and other government agencies offer on the job training and will often pay for certification courses and exams. Their certifications, in turn, allow an operator to gain knowledge and a pay raise or promotion. Wastewater operators typically do not have to have a college degree so the barrier to entry is less competitive than other fields, although a college degree can be beneficial for growth in this field as well.  

What Skills are Needed for Operators? 

Operators need basic math skills, reading, and writing. Mechanical skills and computer skills will also play a key role in this career. Attention to detail is important for drafting reports and checking equipment. Analytical skills are also required for interpreting data and making operational decisions or recommendations. 

How to Find an Operator Job 

Networking is one of the most important factors in finding a job. If you can attend, industry events and other meetings will be helpful in forming relationships that could lead to jobs. You will see many of these contacts throughout your career, and they can be beneficial in your future endeavors. For operators just getting into the field, it may be wise to take introductory certification courses and become a certified operator. Taking this initiative lets employers know that you’re interested in the field, you are willing to work for it, and you can achieve certifications.   

There has never been a better time to start a career as a wastewater treatment operator. There are many jobs available but few candidates. Putting in the time to receive training, education, and networking can pay dividends throughout your career. If you’re interested in this field, don’t hesitate to contact plants in your area and ask for a tour. Most plant staff would be willing to provide helpful information and guidance. Who knows, this initial contact could lead to your first job. Good luck!

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