Water and Wastewater Workforce – Today’s Challenges

Over the past eighteen months, operations staff made it through day-to-day tasks by adhering to Covid protocols, creating skeleton crews from existing staff, and rotating shifts to avoid person-to-person contact and Covid spread. Thanks to their work, operators kept staff safe and clean water flowing.  However, most utilities would agree that the pandemic’s impact on their staff was tough, even causing some veteran operators to consider early retirement. This only worsened the workforce challenges utilities were already facing.

While meeting with utilities over the past two years, it became more evident that many communities were not prepared and are currently struggling to find or train people to fill vacant operator positions. Even where communities were able to fill operator positions after someone’s retirement, too many times, new operators were undertrained and overwhelmed.

Commonwealth Engineers has offered operations assistance to approximately eighty utilities. Often, the sole reason for needing assistance was that new operators did not understand how to identify and resolve operational issues. They were performing daily tasks exactly “how they’ve always done it,” like their predecessors, but unfortunately, that does not directly translate to a thorough understanding of treatment processes or operator responsibilities.

Tomorrow’s water and wastewater workforce will require much more than this if communities hope to have a sustainable in-house operations staff. Early development of an operator succession plan can make all the difference. It is in every utility’s best interest to prepare in advance of their operator’s departure while they can still participate in training their successor. If no capable employees or willing prospects exist for filling a future vacancy, it is best to start looking and planning while utilities still have an operator on staff.

Commonwealth can assist with developing a succession plan and inspiring someone to take on this challenging and rewarding career path. To discuss in more detail, contact Jeffrey Fish, Operations Specialist or, to schedule a visit, contact Carolyn Thomas, Business Development Coordinator.

Jeffrey Fish: jfish@contactcei.com

Carolyn Thomas: cthomas@contactcei.com

Phone: (317) 888-1177