Technology Matters In The Water Treatment Professions. People Matter More.

Technology matters in the water treatment professions. People matter more, especially when those people form strong teams at their facilities.

Technology has changed the water treatment industry for the better. It allows tighter process control. It frees people from mundane, repetitive, miserable tasks (who really wants to clean a bar screen?) and lets them put their ingenuity to work on bigger issues. It helps plants meet ever-stricter regulatory standards.

Still, automated processes aside, in-line instrumentation aside, SCADAs and PLCs and feedback loops aside, this is a people business and always will be. Right now, the “gray wave” of operators nearing retirement means the professions need new talent. The members of the next generation need to learn processes and technology and acclimate to plant and industry cultures.

So above and beyond being capable technicians, leaders in today’s drinking water and wastewater treatment plants need to be teachers and team builders. As they turn their thoughts toward eventually retiring, they need to prepare those who will follow them. Formal training programs are fine, but the best learning happens on the job.

A new TPO feature

With that thought in mind, TPO with this issue introduces an occasional series, “Building the Team.” Here we’ll highlight plants and plant leaders with outstanding records for pulling people together into highly effective units.

The first example is Jamestown (R.I.) Wastewater Treatment Facility, where Doug Ouellette, superintendent, knows teamwork isn’t just for big facilities. In fact, it may matter all the more when a staff is small.

Ouellette observes, “We all work well together — we have to. At larger facilities there may be people who stay with specific tasks. But in our smaller department, we have to be more versatile with a large knowledge base. We do everything ourselves.”

Ouellette worked his way up through the ranks of the profession and is in his 15th year heading up the facility. He knows what needs doing, and he knows how to get everything done by putting his team members’ collective skills to work and by making sure each one acquires all the necessary training.

The power of teams

Teamwork matters because it makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. On a cohesive team, everyone is there to pick the others up. To fill in when someone is sick or on vacation. To collaborate on solving a persistent problem. To devise ingenious ways to save money or energy in the interests of customers. To keep the facility functioning through a major construction project or equipment retrofit.

And of course to pull together when things get difficult. For one example, technology won’t help much when a disabling storm comes to town. When the plant is flooded and the power is down, it’s people and teams who work around the clock to make things right, people and teams who line up emergency pumps and generators, people and teams who do the cleanup and get the facility back up and running and in compliance.

Most of all, though, it’s people and teams using technologies as tools who keep plants running day to day, supplying communities with clean and safe water, protecting the streams and lakes against pollution, and safeguarding public health.

Share your story

As with most of our regular features, TPO invites ideas for the “Building the Team” feature. Does your plant have a highly successful training, mentoring, coaching or other staff development program? Or is there a neighboring plant whose staff development initiatives you admire? Let us know about it.

Send me a note to I promise to respond, and we will profile the best of the best in future issues of the magazine.  


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