New Jersey’s Joe duRocher, that state’s Operator Certification Coordinator, prepared the article below to be published earlier this year in the NJAWWA Pipeline. Joe has agreed to share it with all of you as well. ASDWA hopes that you will find it not only interesting, but also useful as you work to help overcome drinking water workforce issues.
Licensed operators are responsible for the operation, maintenance, and effectiveness of a public water system. The NJDEP believes that licensed operators are vital to protecting public health and ensuring the long-term sustainability of our public water systems. An aging workforce, an insufficient number of replacement operators entering the field, and a greater need for qualified personnel due to increasingly sophisticated and technology- driven treatment processes have all contributed to the likelihood that utilities will face a dangerous operator shortage in the near future. The AWWA and other professional associations estimate that nearly half of water utility workers could retire in the next ten years. Budgetary shortfalls amidst a harsh economic climate have only further hindered systems’ ability to recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified persons to serve as operators. In New Jersey, we are beginning to witness the departure of many talented individuals and quite often there is no one readily available to fill those vacancies. In response to a potential workforce shortage, the AWWA New Jersey Section has initiated steps to promote the water sector as a career choice and to attract young people to the profession.
The NJDEP believes there is a critical need for utilities to employ adequate succession planning measures to ensure the transfer of operators’ knowledge and expertise to the next generation so that there is no potential interruption in public health protection for the citizens of New Jersey. Therefore, by means of a USEPA grant, NJDEP has developed an internship program in an effort to recruit operators for New Jersey’s public water systems. The program requires the assistance of water utilities to serve as host agencies to train and provide a work environment for individuals to serve in one-year internship positions so that they may obtain the experience needed to become New Jersey licensed Water Treatment (T) and/or Water Distribution operators. The program would serve to defray personnel costs incurred by participating utilities.
NJDEP is awaiting final USEPA approval to launch this program. We hope to be able to reimburse water systems for personnel costs up to $35,000 per position. The goal is to provide for as many as sixty positions, for a period of one year from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or equivalent. As part of their internship, applicants will be required to take and pass an introductory or advanced water course at an approved New Jersey educational institution. Individuals who successfully complete the training course and one year of employment will qualify to take a State examination for a T and/or W license. For utilities to serve as host agencies, preference will be given to 1) those systems that require a full-time operator, 2) systems that can demonstrate need for an intern position in order to achieve adequate succession planning, 3) more complex treatment systems with an increased level of sophistication, as indicated by their license classification, 4) publicly owned water systems, and 5) systems with a training program in place for operators. NJDEP also reserves the right to deny participation to those systems that are in significant noncompliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
More information regarding this program will be available shortly. We are pleased to be able to make this opportunity available and we welcome your interest to participate in this program. If you represent a utility that is interested in serving as a host agency, please contact me at (609) 292-5550 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Joseph duRocher is a Principal Environmental Specialist with NJDEP’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water Technical Assistance.