Why You Need to Go Beyond the Wastewater Classroom

Hit the show floor and find out why your wastewater education needs to go beyond the classroom.
Why You Need to Go Beyond the Wastewater Classroom

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Early in my career, my education focused on attending classes and getting licenses. It wasn’t until about 10 years in the wastewater industry that I realized there was so much more to learn. Classes are intended to help operators learn more about wastewater/water in general and to pass licensing exams. However, classes are not the only way to learn about what’s going on in the industry. When I started attending trade shows and conferences, I discovered the industry was moving and changing very quickly, and if I just stayed in my own little world I was going to be left behind.

Expense is always an issue, whether you’re attending a trade show, conference or class. Some of the big trade shows are very expensive to attend and are therefore, hard to budget. Plus, they usually involve, food, travel and lodging expenses. Most municipalities don’t fund this type of education because it’s probably considered a show and not a class. 

In my town, we budget $750 per person per fiscal year. Classes often cost from $130 to $300, so that education budget often disappears quickly. Also the local organizations that run our classes have been offering the same courses for years. That’s why, after 10 years in the industry, I was ready to see and learn something different.

Conferences and trade shows offer you the variety that is lacking in many state training programs.

We all need training contact hours (TCHs) or continuing educational units (CEUs) to maintain our licenses. Classes offer these because you spend four to six hours in a classroom and have an instructor teaching a class. Trade shows, on the other hand, offer a different style of learning. The equipment is on display for a hands-on experience. And the beauty of a trade show is that you get to see several vendors who sell the same equipment but have a different style of process. I find it very interesting to experience how these equipment manufactures are creating new processes.

I love walking a trade show floor and talking with vendors. I do attend several local trade shows, but I’ve also had the opportunity to attend WEFTEC, which is where the real action is. WEFTEC covers more than 1 million square feet of exhibits, which is overwhelming. It’s hard to find a starting point because there is so much to see. You’ll see exhibits and vendors and teams competing in the Operations Challenge, which is a must-see.

One year, I attended WEFTEC when our plant was investigating UV disinfection. I made it my mission to learn about UV, and I must have visited 20 different UV vendors. I got a complete education on the operation, maintenance and life expectancy of the units. It was interesting to see how each vendor wanted to know different things about our flows, hypochlorite use and detention time. Everyone had good and bad points to bring up about how UV works and what to be aware of.

Conferences are usually tied into trade shows. Lately, I’ve been attending the NEWEA Conference in Boston. Again, vendors are present, but there are many great speakers giving presentations on every subject imaginable, including hot topics such as the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, droughts, flooding, aging workforce, lab QA/QC or public education. I enjoy going into these presentations to hear what other people in our industry are seeing and doing. The education you receive is unlike what you could learn in a traditional classroom. To hear other experiences and learn what other operators are doing lets you take what you’ve heard and fit it to your facility’s needs. 

The interaction of operators, engineers and vendors makes for an interesting mix. People tend to be a little more easy-going, probably because it’s a two- or three-day event and they don’t have to get everything across to you in a short amount of time. On the show floor, you’ll experience more casual conversation about how you do and approach things at your facility.

So, get out and attend trade shows and conferences, and make them part of your water/wastewater education plan. After all, there’s more to education than what’s in the classroom.

About the author
Jeff Kalmes is a Grade 7 operator and plant supervisor at the Town of Billerica Wastewater Treatment Plant. He has won the 2008 NEWEA Public Educator Award, the 2011 WEF National Public Educator Award and the 2015 NEWEA Operator of the Year Award. You can reach him at jkalmes@town.billerica.ma.us


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