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Recruiting, Mentoring, and Training a New Generation of Wastewater Operators


Wastewater operators are retiring every day, leaving the future of our wastewater facilities to a new generation. In the past, you may have had more than a hundred applicants for a job - but today is just the opposite. Wastewater professional is not a career that is promoted to children and teens as a lucrative career, but it is a clear choice for young adults who want to help the environment, have a mechanical aptitude, and have skills in math and science. Recruiting new operators may be difficult, but there are a number of ways in which water resource facilities can educate, mentor, and inspire a new generation of wastewater leaders.


Recruiting, mentoring, and training play a crucial role in developing competent and skilled wastewater operators. As the demand for wastewater management grows, it is important to mentor and train individuals who will uphold high standards, be eager to learn, and can show a proactive approach to water management. In this blog, we will discuss the significance of mentoring, the training process, and the benefits it brings to the industry and individuals in the wastewater field.




The Importance of Recruiting and Mentoring


Recruiting employees and mentoring operators plays a pivotal role in shaping this new generation of wastewater operators. In a recent article from CSWEA magazine, Chris Lefebvre penned the article 'Recruiting the Next Generation of Leaders'. Chris commented, "At Stevens Point Public Utilities, we have taken this issue to heart and actively recruit for the industry in as many ways possible. In 2022, we started leading tours of our facility for college students taking "Introduction to Soil and Water" through the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) College of Natural Resources. During these tours we discuss how a wastewater treatment facility operates and what a career in wastewater is like. We discuss the difference that our industry makes in keeping the waters of WI swimmable and fishable."


Opening the doors of your facility and sharing the true benefits of recovering our water resources will paint a clear picture in the minds of environmentally focused young adults who are contemplating their career path.


Recruiting is only one aspect of the equation. Once you've hired your new employees, mentoring is the next step in educating and retaining your staff. Mentoring provides an opportunity for experienced operators and staff to share their knowledge, expertise, experiences, and values. Mentoring can take place with all levels of staff to cross-train and build rapport.


"Mentors act as guides, offering support and guidance to new operators as they navigate their roles and responsibilities."


This guidance not only helps the mentees develop technical skills but also cultivates the right attitude and commitment towards their work at your wastewater facility.



The Training Process


The training process for wastewater operators involves a combination of classroom learning, practical experience, and hands-on training. It is essential for trainees to gain a thorough understanding of the theoretical and technical aspects of wastewater operations, including regulations, safety procedures, and environmental considerations.


Important areas of training:

  • Mechanical and electrical: Operators must have the ability to operate and maintain mechanical equipment, such as pumps, motors, control panels, valves, and other types of equipment used within the facility.

  • Preventative maintenance procedures.

  • Testing and laboratory procedures, analysis.

  • Process control and monitoring.

  • Process adjustment requirements.

  • SCADA, control panel training.

  • In-depth equipment training.

  • OSHA and safety training.

  • As well as - communication, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and problem solving.


Practical experience enables trainees to apply their knowledge in real-life scenarios, preparing them for the challenges they may face on the job. By combining these elements, we can ensure that the next generation of wastewater operators is well-equipped to handle their responsibilities.


Building a Strong Mentor-Mentee Relationship


Establishing a strong mentor-mentee relationship is crucial for effective learning and development. To foster this relationship, the mentor(s) should provide regular feedback and constructive criticism to mentees, encouraging growth and improvement. On the other hand, mentees should be open-minded, proactive, and willing to learn from the experiences and expertise of their mentors. A strong mentor-mentee bond fosters a positive learning environment, facilitating knowledge transfer and skill acquisition.


The Benefits and Future of Wastewater


Investing in recruiting, mentoring, and training programs for the new generation of wastewater operators yields numerous benefits. These include:


  1. Identifying a Diverse Candidate Pool: Making an active effort in recruiting a wide variety of candidates that are interested in helping our communities and environment will enhance your eligible candidates.

  2. Improved Skills and Knowledge: Mentoring and training ensure that operators are equipped with the necessary skills (professionally and personally) and knowledge to perform their duties effectively and safely.

  3. Continuity and Succession Planning: By mentoring new operators, experienced professionals ensure the continuity of expertise in wastewater management and foster a smooth transition between generations.

  4. Increased Job Satisfaction and Retention: Mentoring programs contribute to job satisfaction and retention rates by providing support and guidance to new operators. This leads to a more engaged and committed workforce.

  5. Adaptable and Efficient Operators: Through mentoring and training, new operators can stay up to date with the latest technologies, practices, and regulations, making them adaptable to changing industry demands and more efficient in their work.



Conclusion


Recruiting, mentoring, and training are integral to developing a new generation of competent wastewater operators. By investing in mentorship programs and comprehensive training, your community ensures that these new professionals have the necessary skills, knowledge, and support to excel in their wastewater roles. In doing so, we contribute to the sustainability and success of wastewater management, protecting our environment and communities for years to come.


References:

Central States Water Magazine. Winter 2023. "Recruiting the Next Generation of Leaders." Chris Lefebvre. Page 16.

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