Monday, August 19, 2019

New career opportunities with the Wastewater Operator-in-Training Program

Ecology is growing the operator certification training program by adding three new Operator-in-Training levels.

Recently, we announced awards for the top-performing wastewater treatment plants and their operators. This week, we are excited to announce new career opportunities are now available through our Operator-in-Training (OIT) program.

Why Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators matter

Anything that goes down the sink or toilet ends up at a wastewater treatment plant (treatment plant).  Treatment plants are the frontlines of public health and environmental safety as they work around the clock to clean up our wastewater before it goes into Washington's rivers, lakes, streams, and Puget Sound.
Wastewater treatment operator drawing by 
James R Davis, Senior Gardener for South 
King County Wastewater Treatment Plant 

Wastewater treatment plant operators are the unsung heroes, responsible for ensuring treatment plants keep functioning properly and cleaning the wastewater. These operators have an undeniably important role in keeping Washington’s waters clean.

“Washington’s growing population creates a greater need for wastewater treatment every day. Talented and proficient plant operators are critical to meeting this challenge,” said Ecology Water Quality Program Manager Heather Bartlett. “There are jobs to be had, and we encourage people to go into this field to help serve the public and protect the environment.”

Because their work is so critical to the protection of public health and the environment, Ecology certifies wastewater treatment plant operators to help ensure that they are knowledgeable and able to properly operate and maintain wastewater treatment plants. We certify operators based on wastewater operating experience, relevant experience, and education. We are growing our operator certification training program by adding three new Operator in Training (OIT) Group Levels. 

Why Add Operator in Training Group Levels?

Ecology added new OIT Group levels II-IV to incentivize and encourage entry into, and growth within, the profession. This program creates more pathways for operators to advance to higher group levels. It also helps managers at treatment plants to plan for their most experienced operators’ retirements.

How did we design the OIT levels? 

We listened to operators. In 2018, we conducted a survey and formed a stakeholder Rule Advisory Committee (RAC). The RAC—made up of certified operators, statewide, from each group level—came together to advise us on the necessary changes to the rule. We then released an informal draft of our proposal for public comment. This past spring we held a formal comment period on the new levels.

During the survey and the RAC meetings, wastewater operators voiced their concern about the number of operators retiring from the workforce and the challenges for new operators entering the industry. We have repeatedly heard how important it is to get entry into this field and to promote growth from within the talented pool of operators that the state certifies. These OIT group levels help us do that. 

How it Works

A certified operator for the City of Enumclaw is cleaning a
secondary clarifier, just one of many tasks operators do to keep
treatment plants running smoothly. 
The formal regulatory action we took was adopting new OIT Group levels II-IV in chapter 173-230 WAC. These new OIT Group levels are for operators who can pass the next higher Group level exam, but do not yet meet the certification requirements to qualify for a full certification at that higher Group level. This means operators do not have to wait as long before taking the exam for the next certification level.  

Applicants who already hold a full certification 

If you meet the requirements for the OIT group level, you may apply for an OIT certification one level above your current full certification group level. If you pass the exam, you will then hold both your new OIT certification and your existing full certification.
You may keep your Group II – IV OIT certification for two exam cycles, up to 10 years, while gaining the necessary experience to upgrade to the next group level for full certification. 
While holding an OIT II-IV certification, you are only required to meet the professional growth requirements for their full certification and will pay only one renewal fee.
You will not be required to earn an OIT group level II-IV certification to advance to the next full certification level. It is merely an option for those operators lacking the operating experience necessary to qualify for the next level full certification. It allows you to take and pass the exam and gain the experience on the job. 

Applicants not yet certified 

If you do not already hold a certification, you may apply only for an OIT I. There is no time limit to how long an OTI I may remain at this group level.

Be a part of the solution

Given our state’s growing population, we need to treat more and more wastewater. This is a great field, with growth opportunities—often right in your own community.
Every treatment plant is unique - 
like the Cowiche Treatment Plant pictured here.

Not sure if you have the right experience? We find that people with experience as a welder, machinist, mechanic, operator at other similar facilities, laboratory technician, or engineer, often have the right type of experience for this important work. Check out our certification program website for more information. 

Evergreen Rural Water of Washington (ERWoW) is in the process of launching their Wastewater Utility Apprenticeship Program. The program offers hands-on and classroom training, which are both invaluable to wastewater treatment plant operators. We have had the opportunity to review their proposed program and training courses. Based on our review, operators who are successful in the program can qualify for the Operator-In-Training, Group I, Group II OIT, and eventually Group II level wastewater operator certification exams.

By: Jocelyn Jones, Senior Water Quality Rules Planner

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