Cultivating Next Generation of Water and Wastewater Industry Workers

Access to reliable, safe water is essential to everyday life. The certified water and wastewater operators who operate and manage our treatment plants and transmission / conveyance systems are a critical part of protecting public health. Those on the job now provide around-the-clock services, and millions of people around the world depend on them – especially during times of international crisis like what COVID-19 presents.

At the same time, there are thousands of professionals nationwide in the water and wastewater sectors who are due to retire in the coming decade, and the industry as a whole is in need of the next generation of certified operators to take over for these retirees. According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 7,000 certified operators will be needed across the country in less than ten years.

The District, in collaboration with Collin College, developed a Waterworks training program to address the growing worker shortage across the water/wastewater treatment industry and especially for NTMWD who is seeing a reduction in workforce due to retirement rates. The inaugural class for this vital program began earlier this month with students eager to work towards earning their Wastewater Class D license and possible internship with the District.

Due to national and state guidelines in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Waterworks training program classes have been suspended until such time they can resume safely. NTMWD and Collin College continue to be excited about this collaborative solution to developing the next generation of water and wastewater workers.

“The overall goal of the Waterworks program is to create a pipeline of qualified individuals to replace the numerous dedicated career professionals who have reached or are about to reach retirement,” said Michael Helms, Training & Development Supervisor for the District.

The program is funded through the State of Texas Talent Connection Grant through the Texas Workforce Commission Wagner-Peysner Act where students interested in a waterworks career can obtain their basic license and education at little to no cost to them. The partnership with Collin College is essential as our footprints overlap, they have extensive educational resources, and access to recent high school graduates and others seeking a career path through skilled trades.

The course is taught by Zachary Jackson, Lead Operator at our South Mesquite Wastewater Treatment Plant and Captain of the WEAT Division II National Champion Mesquite Rangers Operations Challenge Team and begins with an introduction to wastewater collection and treatment. Students will attend twice-weekly classes through July and will cover a review of the water cycle together with a general description of the responsibilities of wastewater system personnel and the need for regulation of wastewater dischargers to protect receiving streams and the public health, safety, and welfare. Basic wastewater chemistry and math skills are developed and applied to chemical dosage and other operational problems.

The Waterworks training program consists of two training paths toward the goal of earning a Class D license, one for water operators and the other for wastewater operators. Once eligible, students will be able to take the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Class D Certification exam at no cost to them (funded through the grant.) Following the training and licensure attainment, participants will have the opportunity to apply for on-the-job experience with a five-week internship at the District. Job placement preparation services will also be available through Collin College for those seeking a career in water and wastewater operations.

The path to becoming a certified, licensed water professional is strenuous yet rewarding. The District is proud to be able to work with Collin College to offer an accessible path to a career in these essential services and ensure a dedicated workforce for the future.

For more information on the program and opportunities to enroll contact Natalie Greenwell at Collin College