May 2009, Vol. 21, No.5

Succession Planning

A New Maintenance Position

Dale E. Kocarek and Mark J. Livengood

Many small cities nationwide are in similar situations: The city built a primary wastewater treatment plant in the 1950s and upgraded to a secondary plant during the mid-1980s under the auspices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Construction Grants program. During the past 20 years, smaller projects have upgraded this process or that, but for the most part, the equipment installed during the 1980s is still in use today.

These cities have tried to manage their systems adequately and generally have succeeded, but in the end, they have lacked sufficient resources for reinvestment in critical infrastructure and personnel. However, the demands on maintenance staff to keep critical equipment running in proper working order have increased and will continue to do so until new improvements are constructed and placed into operation.

This situation makes a well-qualified maintenance team more important than ever, yet the hiring practices of some cities hinder efforts to create an effective maintenance team. The creation of a new type of position can help ensure a fully functional maintenance team and prepare the utility for the future.

The Risk With Transfers
In many cities, transferring among city departments is easier than hiring a new employee. According to some superintendents, maintenance personnel often transfer out of the street maintenance department into the wastewater maintenance department. While this may be a fine solution in some cases, many street department employees do not have the skills and knowledge to maintain complex water and wastewater equipment. Additionally, seniority is often a primary factor in determining who will fill a vacant position.

Some personnel do not possess the skills needed to work independently on many maintenance projects. This lack of ability places an undue burden on the superintendent and maintenance foreman, requiring them personally to do the work on projects that should have been completed by their staff.

Additionally, those who should be learning from the maintenance foreman are, in some cases, content to be helpers and do not aspire to leadership roles. This situation is not necessarily a problem, but when the maintenance foreman is scheduled to retire in less than 5 years, a successor must be found.

Wastewater Service Technician
One way to ensure that new maintenance personnel — transfers or not — are qualified is to create a new position dedicated to maintenance at water or wastewater treatment plants. This new position — wastewater service technician — replaces the entry-level tapper or laborer positions, which are tasked with performing new taps for sanitary sewer systems or tasks requiring minimal skill based on experience or training.

A wastewater service technician applicant would have to demonstrate competence and knowledge in wastewater and, hopefully, be able to grow into a lead worker role for internal projects involving significant repair projects. This position still includes many of the job functions of a laborer but also includes some higher-level functions focused on maintenance of aspects of the city’s wastewater treatment assets. A sample job description is provided in the sidebar (below).

The wastewater service technician is required to complete and pass operator training and certification courses with a concentration on collection systems and maintenance within a relatively short time — the description in the sidebar allows just 24 months. This type of requirement has two benefits. First, it provides job-specific training to the new hire. Second, and perhaps more important, it will attract an applicant with initiative who is more likely to seek advancement.

In Practice
The City of Marietta, Ohio, created the wastewater maintenance technician position last year, and filled the position in July, according to Steve Elliot, wastewater superintendent. The change has been working very well, he said.

The skill sets and multitasking ability of the position has allowed the plant more flexibility to complete work quickly and efficiently. Additionally, when the employee completes his training — a classroom-based collections system course — and passes the exam, the plant will gain an additional trained and certified operator and the employee gains a greater chance for future advancement.

It appears to be a win–win situation, Elliot said. He added that the city is planning to replace the next tapper — when he retires — with another wastewater service technician.

Dale E. Kocarek is a project manager at Stantec Consulting Inc. (Columbus, Ohio), and Mark J. Livengood is the water reclamation services superintendent at Montgomery County (Ohio) Water Services.

Wastewater Service Technician Job Requirements

General Statement of Duties
Performs semiskilled and skilled work related to the installation, operation, maintenance, and repair of the wastewater treatment plant and collections system.

Distinguishing Features of the Position
This is a professional and technical position. Employee will perform a variety of duties requiring the skilled application of hand tools, power tools, and portable equipment used in the installation, repair, and maintenance of collection lines, lift stations, and the wastewater plant.

Basic Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
Good knowledge of piping, plumbing, and mechanical skills used in the wastewater field are required. Also required are documentation skills, the ability to read blueprints and diagrams, prepare reports, and follow oral and written instructions.

Examples of Work*
Repair manholes, lamp holes, service lines, sewer mains, and other collection system components. Inspect sewer mains, service lines, manholes, and other collection system components. Make sewer taps and connections. Document daily work logs and complaint sheets. Prepare reports of sanitary-sewer overflows and other problems. Perform dye, smoke, and flow tests on collection systems. Identify and document inflow and infiltration problems. Operate dump and service trucks, closed-circuit televising equipment, air compressors, tampers, portable generators, pumps, cutoff and chain saws, air blowers, and related tools and equipment. Assist in maintenance and repair of the wastewater plant, lift stations, and collection system.

Required Qualifications
Employee must complete and pass an accredited collection and maintenance system training course within 24 months of employment. Employee shall earn and maintain wastewater collections system operator certification. Employee must obtain a driver’s license to operate any motor vehicle within the wastewater treatment plant and collections system within 180 days of employment. Employee must possess a high school diploma or general education development (GED) credential.
*This is a partial list.

©2009 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.