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LOOKING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF WATER OPERATORS
FluksAqua Community, FluksAqua insights, Water and wastewater community, Water plant operator,
NEED TO ATTRACT NEW WATER OPERATORS TO THE INDUSTRY TO REPLACE AGING WORKFORCE
Youth unemployment is a growing concern in many countries including Canada and the U.S. No longer does a university degree guarantee the start of a career. In addition, more and more jobs are becoming more contract-based as companies try to reduce their labour costs. With all of this uncertainty, the industry has a perfect opportunity to attract and retain water operators. It is an opportunity for a stable career in a dynamic industry.
As the younger generation searches for a position that will bring them the challenges and rewards they are looking for, careers such as water and wastewater operators are being overlooked because millennials don’t know they exist. Millennials are considered one of the most environmentally-conscious generations so working with water is a natural fit. The industry is facing a generational jam of older, experienced workers who will be retiring in the near future without qualified personnel to replace them. It is an issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes a real problem.
WATER OPERATORS, GOOD PAY AND STABLE JOB
FluksAqua’s goal is to raise awareness of this coming problem to try and encourage the next generation to consider water operator as a career choice. In an uncertain job market, water operators are a vital role with good job security and the potential for a comfortable salary. Considering the alternatives of contract work with few benefits, being a water operator can offer stability and a comfortable income. For example, five provinces offer a highly competitive salary of $60,000 – $90,000 after reaching the position or equivalent to level four operator after four or five years of training.
Table 1. Water Operator salaries in Canadian provinces
In the U.S, the average salary for a water and wastewater treatment plant operators is $40,716 according to research by the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation.
Water and wastewater operator is a job in high-demand with few graduates heading into the field. Water associations across Canada agree that a lack of awareness of the field is to blame for the insufficient up-and-coming water operators.
FluksAqua interviewed Kalpna Solanki, the CEO of the Environmental Operators Certification Program (EOCP is the largest credentialing organization in BC and Yukon, and more than 75% of the water/wastewater sector employees are EOCP members and certified by EOCP) and Carlie Hucul, the CEO of the British Columbia Water and Waste Association (BCWWA) on the barriers impacting the workforce. Both CEOs identified an aging workforce, the lack of awareness of the field and a lack of succession planning as the main issues impacting the current workforce. Hucul adds that a profile of the sector’s workforce, completed in December 2015, highlighted a number of challenges and barriers impacting the workforce [in British Columbia and the Yukon]:
“Gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities – Education and training must continuously evolve to provide the water and wastewater workforce with the knowledge, skills and abilities to do its job competently and effectively. The profile found that education and training are needed to address new water technologies, changing regulations, leadership, communication, conflict resolution, information technology, environmental and legal issues, and so on. To address these gaps, the sector should conduct needs assessments, establish standardized competency profiles by occupational type, and update educational, certification and accreditation requirements.
Knowledge loss due to an aging workforce nearing retirement – About 1,150 current workers will retire within the next 10 years. The largest group of retirees (44%) are operators. The rest comprise technical support staff, utility supervisors and managers. Succession planning is needed in the sector and should include transferring knowledge to younger employees. But only 18% of employers have taken action to implement programs for succession planning for senior management positions.
Limited pathways for entry and advancement in operations – Operators typically require valid certification to obtain a job but cannot become certified without work experience—a Catch-22. Post-secondary programs that prepare students for operational jobs in the water and wastewater sector are limited. Furthermore, there are no career pathways to advance from an operational role into a supervisory, management or more technical role such as technician or engineer.
Challenges in recruiting workers, especially younger workers and women – The water and wastewater sector workforce is aging, yet the industry is not attracting its share of younger workers compared with the overall workforce in BC. It also employs a low percentage of female workers compared with other utility industries.
Lack of awareness of career opportunities in the sector – To meet the demand for new workers, the industry needs to promote employment opportunities in the sector to
- secondary school students and their parents,
- university students with a related degree (science, environmental health or engineering),
- workers from other industries who may be looking for opportunities, and
- immigrants with relevant education and experience.” – explains Hucul.
During a presentation at the BCWWA Annual Conference in Victoria, B.C. last week, Solanki and Hucul encouraged utilities to implement succession planning and knowledge transfer initiatives as well as attend career fairs at high schools and universities to educate students on the career opportunities. Hucul explains how “all employers should have a succession plan that outlines a replacement strategy for each of their employees, or groups of employees. If the strategy involves transitioning existing employees into alternative or more senior positions, a plan outlining how they will obtain the knowledge, skills and abilities required to capably fulfil the responsibilities of their new roles will be needed.”
Solanki and Hucul note that as we move forward on a strategy to address challenges facing the workforce, it will be important for employers in British Columbia and Yukon to engage with the EOCP and the BCWWA and other stakeholders to support of industry-wide career awareness and recruitment initiatives.
INCENTIVES TO ATTRACT NEW GRADUATES TO THE INDUSTRY
The water and wastewater industry has to enhance its image and brand to attract new entrants, suggests Solanki. She recommends utilities to allocate some spots annually for co-op students to get on the job training. “This has to be one of the most stable industries,” explains Solanki. “The jobs are good, and wages are good – with lots of variety in day-to-day responsibilities based on where the person is located.”
When asked about incentive that exist to attract new graduates to the industry Hucul responded that “In conversation with water professionals over the years, I often hear that a career in the water and wastewater industry is very fulfilling. Individuals are proud to deliver safe and sustainable water and wastewater services in their community. For young, new workers the industry offers an opportunity to serve their community and ensure the environment is protected for future generations.”
Hucul also points out that “for new workers considering a career in a utilities-related role, the water and wastewater sector offers stable employment at a fair wage. Employment stability is an advantage this sector has over other utility sectors. Advancements in the industry are technology-driven with a number of occupations involved in hands-on work. Research findings and innovative processes and technologies are regularly developed and introduced to the market, providing workers with new and interesting opportunities to learn and innovate.”
THE CAREER PATH OF WATER OPERATORS
Water and wastewater operators play an integral part in building our sustainable future. The essential service is in charge of more than just drinking water; they also monitor and maintain water mains and major sewers, pumping stations, production wells, purification and treatment plants and water storage facilities.
A career in water operation requires an active interest in public health, the environment and the right educational background. Starting in high school, future water operators should be succeeding in sciences. When moving to post-secondary education, students in environmental studies and chemical, mechanical or civil engineering will find their skills are easily transferable to water operations. Many states and provinces offer post-secondary training in water operation for those looking to join the field.
Tell us your story
FluksAqua is committed to raising awareness of the water operator role to ensure continuity.
We want to hear your story! How did you come to work in the water and wastewater sector? How is your utility preparing for workforce replacement? What advice do you have for the new generation?
FluksAqua will be writing a blog series featuring water and wastewater operators around the World to promote this career path to the new generation.
If you are interested in being part of our blog series, please send an email to Nadia Koukoui at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking for your next career move?