When it comes to successfully managing any water or wastewater treatment facility, there is no denying that efficiency and high-quality operation are directly related to the expertise and performance of the operator. Today’s operators seem to be a diminishing breed. Those who are in the field are tasked with continual learning of the newest technology used to collect and understand data as well as automate systems. One of the keys to helping operators achieve optimal performance is to invest in training and systems designed to improve overall knowledge of technological advances and plant operation integration, resulting in high-performance Human Machine Interface (HMI), increased operator efficiency and reduced stress and fatigue.

Ongoing training is imperative to keeping up with new technology. A lot of technology and HMI education can happen on the job, and hands-on experience is certainly valuable. When paired with classroom instruction, training is most easily solidified long-term. An example of this approach is the new Manager Training Program designed by Alliance Water Resources to help operators become more technologically-savvy and increase their skill sets. This program includes monthly classroom instruction on a variety of topics, that is then demonstrated with hands-on learning in the plant. It is the newest in a long line of training programs developed by the company, a practice which has allowed them to both increase their talent base and retain valuable staff due to unlimited growth-opportunity.

One prevalent use of technology in water and wastewater plants are computerized control systems. It is important to recognize that not all communities, especially smaller ones, have made the investment and technological leap. In these situations, a knowledgeable operator can help communities determine how to get started.

A good approach is to seek out what types of technology will provide the most immediate benefit, and start there. Once some basic systems are adapted and mastered, expansion typically happens organically. There are many benefits to introducing technologies such as computerized control systems, including quicker emergency response, fewer overflows (in the case of sewers), quicker response to low pressure or other water issues (regarding drinking water), optimized chemical treatments resulting in cost savings and more.

Another investment that our industry as a whole needs to make is in the recruitment of the workforce. Many operators start in entry-level positions and train up. However, the pool of candidates getting started in water and wastewater management is dwindling while the existing workforce continues to age.

To combat possible perceptions that make our industry less appealing, we can look towards the influx of technology. By communicating that the industry is advancing in this direction, and that operators of tomorrow will utilize high-tech skills to operate advanced equipment, we can emphasize a career that requires strategic minds and technological navigation.

A focus on the next generation of operators to gain their interest and train them accordingly for a long-term, stable career is paramount for advancing our efforts throughout the industry. The need for water will always be vital – regardless of the economy, politics or other changes in our world. An investment in acquiring and training the next generation of operators is one that benefits us all.