You Called Me What? The Name Says It All

Does your job title do you justice?
You Called Me What? The Name Says It All

The water and wastewater industry is continually evolving. And with that comes changes to processes, regulations, operations and even job titles. We generally use the term “operator” to define those of you who operate and maintain the nation’s drinking water systems. 

But how do you feel about that term? With increasing legal liabilities, your position requires more professional skills, knowledge and experience than ever before. Does “operator” do you justice? 

The complex water systems today are vastly different from those before the Safe Drinking Water Act (passed 39 years ago) and the Clean Water Act (passed 41 years ago). And many of you in your mid-50s and 60s are well aware of the increasing need for certifications of varying degrees compared to 40 years ago when regulations were nowhere near as stringent as they are today. 

A recent survey, conducted by the National Rural Water Association and distributed by each of its state rural water offices, asked 1,850 system personnel of all size systems and positions which title best projects the skills, knowledge and expertise in the industry today. Of those surveyed, 72 percent chose “specialist” or “technician” over the title of “operator.” 

Perhaps this is only a sliver of the water system professionals in the country, but nonetheless, the results speak volumes. Almost three-fourths of the people surveyed believe their job titles do not accurately convey the work they do day in and day out. With such a clear response from those within the industry, this must be a time for change. 

The industry must plan for, and accept, these inevitable changes as nearly 65 percent of the workforce will be gone as baby boomers retire. Would a job title change help attract a younger generation of workers? Does “operator” effectively convey the necessary skills and knowledge associated with running and maintaining complex drinking water systems? 

Sam Wade, NRWA deputy CEO, puts it candidly: “If you were just getting out of school and looking for a job, would you most likely apply to an ad for a Water System Operator or a System Operations Specialist?” 

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