Letters - July 2014

Hiring former convicts

The decision to engage in a criminal act carries many repercussions and having to acknowledge a prior conviction on a job application is just one example (“Building a Bridge,” Water System Operator, April 2014). That said, the case for forgiveness and the opportunity for a second chance is strong, as sometimes it takes a major setback to get one’s life back on the right track.

Whether it be the water industry or any other workplace environment, I’d bet an employee could be found with a clean record who is a constant sore spot for management and co-workers due to work ethic, attitude or a host of other reasons. Some would say that such a person’s presence at work is a criminal act in itself.

From the business world to the entertainment world, there are many stories of lives that were turned around. If an opportunity arose to hire someone who humbly comes before you admitting a past mistake, yet exhibits a strong work ethic and desire to gain more knowledge, why not contemplate affording that person a chance during the interview process. A carefully thought-out series of questions, along with your intuition, can go a long way toward making the final selection a correct one.

Gregory V. Henderson

Assistant Superintendent

Vineland (N.J.) Municipal Utilities – Water Division

A better name

I have been working with water for nearly eight years and for a municipality for about four. Thus far, being a treatment operator (a little less than two years) has been the highlight of my career. It is a fulfilling job that has lots of career potential. It is more of a specialist-type job, in my opinion. There is a set of very specific guidelines that we are required to adhere to, and there are licenses that the state requires.

Arlington is a leader in the water industry and has taken steps recently to start fashioning my position into something a little more desirable. For one, they have started hiring operators at the median of the listed salary range, or 100 percent, for a base treatment technician job. This is just the first patch in a process to limit the amount of turnover that has plagued this position.

The good hourly wage actually brought me back to treatment from another position at a supervisor level because I enjoyed the job so much and it allows more freedom than many jobs. I work a straight eight hours and I’m done. College is also back on the table for me because I work an evening shift that will allow for school/study during the day and family time on my days off at home.

In the works is a plan to allow for promotions or levels of treatment technicians. Currently there are only three — T5 treatment tech trainee, T6 treatment technician, and T8 chief treatment technician. The idea is that as we get better licenses and are blessed as competent in other specific aspects of the job (such as flocculation, instrumentation, distribution, monthly operating reports and several others) we get promoted to the next level.

There would be a T7 position put in place for the B license people. It would break down so that T5 requires a D license, up to the T8, requiring an A license, plus proficiencies. At the top you can expect an attractive hourly salary, plus overtime that is often available.

Beyond changing the structure for advancement there is management above that, and the other fields one can pursue after learning the trade. Instrumentation, pump repair, engineering, electrical and consulting are some of the profitable careers that being a treatment operator can lead to.

In my opinion, the operator position does need to be changed to specialist and given more responsibility. The idea I have will save overhead cost and allow even higher pay. There are many positions that keep our treatment facility running. We have two treatment plants, each with its own maintenance staff of four or five (one lead and a crew).

There is an electrical team that is designed to have three people (a lead and two journeymen). We also have a SCADA team that is supposed to have two people but never does because it is hard to match the private sector salary of a SCADA/PLC programmer. There is also a treatment operations administrator who currently handles the monthly state paperwork and oversees the operations team. Then there are two managers, one for each treatment plant, and one administrative professional between them.

My thought is to cut out many of those positions and move them to a treatment specialist position and provide the training needed to do all those necessary jobs. It would create more well-rounded employees and allow them to attain positions worth paying a wage that would attract more people.

I understand that programming a PLC is an advanced skill. Make it a top-tier level that a treatment specialist can reach and contract someone to do the work with the money saved by merging the different divisions of treatment together. Plus, with all the staff working, overtime would be minimized.

It may even be possible to correct the other issue with working in treatment: the hours. It’s a 24/7 operation, and that is not appealing to many people. Currently, my days off are Wednesday and Thursday, plus I work an eight-hour evening shift from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. If there were enough staff, it would be possible for everyone to have a weekend day off, or rotating days. However one arranges the schedule, it would be easier to do with more staff.

Linden Shultz

Treatment Technician

Water Utilities Department

Arlington, Texas

Don’t be grandiose

When I was a boy in elementary school, we jokingly referred to the garbage man as a “sanitation engineer.” Today, the minimum-wage temp who answers your call to customer service and reads through a script is typically called something like “customer satisfaction specialist/technician.”

We who are water professionals want (I hope) to avoid such grandiose self-parody. In my opinion, the terms “water distribution operator” and “water reclamation operator” work just fine for describing who we are and what we do.

I have never minded being called a wastewater operator, and I am proud to be one. I am always happy to explain what that is and what I do. However, my experience has been that no matter what you call it or how you describe it, the general public is just not interested. Potable water is just what comes out of the tap, and how exciting is that? Much of the general public wouldn’t even know the meaning of the word “potable.” Wastewater is icky, and who wants to talk about poo and pee water?

Many water professionals know we need to better educate the public about water resource use and reclamation, but you can’t teach people anything they just aren’t interested in. People in general can’t be bothered to care about something they have been able to take for granted all their lives. I’m afraid they will be interested in what we do only when they realize that plentiful, potable water is not something they can take for granted anymore, as something cheap to the point of being virtually free.

I’ve been saying for years that it is long past time to stop artificially suppressing the true cost of water and to assess water and sewer rates based on what is truly necessary to construct, maintain and operate the necessary infrastructure. I am ready to put my money where my mouth is: I would gladly pay double what I now pay for my water bill to make sure we provide for the water and wastewater infrastructure repairs this nation so desperately needs, and for the future construction, maintenance and operation of those systems. It would still cost considerably less than half of my cable TV bill. I can live without cable TV. I can’t live without water.

Phil Bassett

Grade IV Wastewater Operator

Grade I Collection System Operator

Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant

Chattanooga, Tenn.

About those names

“Clean water plant” is too easily confused with drinking water plants. “Water resource recovery facility”? I agree it is too wordy, and “water” and “resource” are redundant.

I would suggest water reclamation facility or, as alternatives, water recovery facility, water renovation facility, water recuperation facility, water retrieval facility, or water rescue facility.

Greg A. Hyde

National Sales Manager

Custom Conveyor Corp.

Rogers, Minn.


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