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Faced with increasingly stringent regulatory responsibility, advancing treatment technology, significant population growth, and the need to recruit from a defined pool of certified plant operators with advanced technical experience, POTWs are often left high and dry in their attempt to recruit and retain competent operators. In 2000, the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Plant (L/E WWTP) lost 5 certified operators and a supervisor to small facilities offering attractive pay/benefits packages. The plant was left clinging to a skeleton operations crew. An exhausted operations staff was asked to work inordinate overtime hours, and almost every shift had at least one overtime operator to bring shift staffing to minimum levels.

Recruiting efforts for “A” certified plant operators had failed miserably for two years. The target recruitment group, operators with strong technical experience, was working at other facilities in long-term, secure positions with all the associated benefits. Still, recruitment efforts were made and, for the next several months, all the tricks of the recruiting trade were attempted: repackaged job advertisements, signing bonuses offered, a new “Lead Operator” position created to offer a more attractive pay line. This renewed effort attracted one “A” Certified operator and one “A” Certified Operations Supervisor. Within a year, the Operator took a job at a smaller plant!

Finally, in one last desperate attempt to recruit competent staff, Plant management looked inward at existing plant staff and asked two questions: “Where did the really outstanding operators come from?” The answer: “off the street.” “What made them outstanding?” The answer: “They are intrinsically motivated individuals, willing to seek training and certification both on the job and outside of work, and they learned this facility in-side out, by being trained in-house.” The answer to the dilemma of the depleted pool of certified operators: Create your own pool! So began the apprentice operator program.

The L/E WWTP Apprentice Operator Program was developed to support success for apprentice employees, as well as the facility. Incentives and resources were used to provide the tools necessary to foster individual development. The following items, are used to support success:

“Performance contract”, signed by the Apprentice Operator, upon hire into the program with the goal of attaining an “A” wastewater operator certification.

Special “incentive” pay line.

Tuition payment and expectation program for college courses.

In-house training program.

Staff scheduling to meet requirements of the facility and school classes.

There are currently six individuals in the Apprentice Program. These individuals are enthusiastic in their efforts to learn and develop the technical skills required to competently operate a tertiary wastewater treatment facility. The success of the program has been tremendous and will provide the staff and recruitment strategy needed to carry the plant forward into the distant future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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