WEF Discussion Forums
Enticing New Blood for the Profession
I am an advocate for recruiting "new blood" into the wastewater profession. I think it's a great idea and I applaud the efforts WEF and Member Associations are undertaking to get "new blood" into our profession. I'm seeing the publicizing of the virtues of our profession by the larger WWTFs that have state-of-the-art equipment and nice-looking, well-lit, spacious and clean labs (as opposed to windowless labs the size of a small closet), etc. Here's the reality: I was just at a WWTF in a small town whose residents are low-income, as is the case with many small towns in my state. The WWTF was in terrible condition: rusty clarifier walkways, rusty roof, pipes being held in place with straps, operators having to literally spend all day cleaning clarifier effluent launders by hand because the Town turns a deaf ear when it comes to upgrading the infrastructure. The operators are doing the best they can by cannibalizing parts, for example, but the Town Manager is still trying to find ways to further cut corners, including reducing staffing. Even though the WWTF has gone out for bid on some improvements with ARRA money, the bids are too high and the Town wants to cut, cut, cut many more items in the bids. The Chief Operator is looking for another job because he's so frustrated. I know that not all small WWTFs are in as bad shape as this one, but this isn't the first small WWTF I've seen that looks like this. Given the fact that there are more small WWTFs than large ones out there, how are we going to entice young people, who are faced with so many other options, to work at WWTFs when this is what they see in their own hometowns?
I tell people wastewater treatment pays my bills, and has for years. Have not had a WWTP closed down like the pulp mill. I started in pulp those jobs are gone.
Many towns don't have rates where they are needed. Ours were $13.97 just two years ago and are now $28. We get ask all the time why we didn't get grants to rebuild the plant. To get grants you have to charge the national average $43/ month I think. So most people I talk with are OK with our rate.
New blood will come as new stuff shows up at wastewater plants, solar power, co-gen, Struvite recovery, reuse water. All this stuff is at wastewater plants. Wastewater plants have a pipe line of raw material coming in the front door. There are opportunities to save and even make money in wastewater. We are the Green machine.
You hit a wide range of issues and challenges for the small utility. However, the issues probably apply to everyone.
Communication is always a challenge, but folks getting frustrated tend to clam-up. That's compounded by possibly getting a challenging Board. The thing is....people can't understand or respect what is going on unless someone actually explains how or why it was done and why that's important.
Prioritizing what's really important can be a chronic problem: I understand the idea of cleaning clarifier, but it really isn't a critical element of daily or weekly operation (for most plants).