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Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Most States have four levels of certification for water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators. On the basis of criteria such as the size of the plant and the treatment processes employed, each plant is given a corresponding level. A small system may only require the lowest level of certification. An operator who has that certification would be able to operate the plant without any supervision. In some States, operators in small plants can earn higher certifications through knowledge tests, while in other States, experience in a larger plant is required. Either way, operators in these plants will find it difficult to advance in their careers without moving to a larger plant.

As plants get larger and more complicated, operators need more skills before they are allowed to work without supervision. At the largest plants, operators who have the highest level of certification work as shift supervisors and may be in charge of large teams of operators. Operators in these plants can start as trainees and work through the different levels of certification until they advance to the level of shift supervisor.

Some experienced operators get jobs as technicians with State drinking-water-control or water-pollution- control agencies. In that capacity, they monitor and provide technical assistance to plants throughout the State. Vocational-technical school or community-college training generally is preferred for technician jobs. Experienced operators may transfer to related jobs with industrial liquid-waste treatment plants, water or liquid waste treatment equipment and chemical companies, engineering consulting firms, or vocational-technical schools.

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators held about 113,400 jobs in 2008. About 78 percent of all operators worked for local governments. Others worked primarily for water, sewage, and other systems utilities and for waste treatment and disposal and waste management services. Jobs were located throughout the country.

Job Outlook
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operator jobs are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities should be excellent for qualified workers.

Job Growth
Employment of water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. A growing population and the increasingly suburban geography of the United States are expected to boost demand for water and wastewater-treatment services. As new plants are constructed to meet this demand, new water and wastewater treatment plant and system operator jobs will arise.

Local governments are the largest employers of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators. Employment in privately owned facilities will grow faster, because Federal certification requirements have increased utilities' reliance on private firms specializing in the operation and management of water- and wastewater-treatment facilities.

Job opportunities should be excellent, both because of the expected much faster than average employment growth and because the retirement of the baby-boomer generation will require that many operators be replaced. Further, the number of applicants for these jobs is normally low, primarily because of the physically demanding and unappealing nature of some of the work. Opportunities should be best for people with mechanical aptitude and problem-solving skills.

Median annual wages of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators were $38,430 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,040 and $48,640. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,860. Median annual wages of water and liquid waste treatment plant and systems operators in May 2008 were $38,510 in local government and $37,620 in water, sewage, and other systems.

In addition to their annual salaries, water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators usually receive benefits that may include health and life insurance, a retirement plan, and educational reimbursement for job-related courses.

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