Job Title Change Hits a Nerve With TPO Readers

Job Title Change Hits a Nerve With TPO Readers

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After a record number of responses poured in for the Let’s Be Clear column titled “What’s in a Name? Or a Title?” in the January 2014 issue of Treatment Plant Operator, we knew we had a hot-topic issue on our hands. 

We compiled the responses here to give you an idea of how other industry professionals feel about the advantages — and disadvantages — of calling treatment plants something else and giving people who work there different titles to express the pride each of you have for your individual positions and the overall industry. 

When you’re done reading, be sure to post a comment with your thoughts. 

Favors a Name Change

After reading your comments and those of Sam Wade, in the January 2014 issue of TPO, I feel obliged to respond. I started in the water and wastewater business 20 years ago after a downturn in the oil and gas industry. In many parts of Texas, particularly in the Greater Houston area, municipal utility districts are the owners of the systems and plants. 

These are quasi-governmental entities set up by the state to provide water and wastewater services needed by customers. Many of these districts are operated and managed by operating companies that perform all the services involved. This includes meter reading, billing, plant operation, collection and distribution operation and maintenance, customer service, and repairs. 

With most of these operating companies, one person may be responsible for the operation of four or five districts. That person will operate and monitor the wastewater plant, water wells and lift stations for each of those districts. Daily process control testing and periodic lead and copper sampling are other duties. They also respond to customer complaints and do initial evaluation of collection and distribution problems. 

The point I am making is that the title of “operator” just doesn’t cut it in my mind. I like “clean water specialist” on the wastewater side and “water production specialist” on the potable side. As immediate past president of the Sam Houston chapter of the Texas Water Utilities Association, of which I am vice president, as well as chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Water Utility Operator Licensing Advisory Committee, I have contact with a great many folks across the state.  

Since I entered this industry, I have never seen a plant permit for a “sewer treatment plant” or a license that identifies the holder as a “sewer treatment plant operator.” These terms are at least 20 years old. Yet I still run into folks that say they work at a sewage treatment plant or that they are a sewage treatment plant operator. When asked, I tell people that I am a water utility manager, although that is not my job title with my employer. I support the effort to change the employee titles and plant identification, but I am afraid it will be a slow process. 

Allen P. Schreiber
Supervisor, Field Services
Fort Bend County
Stafford, Texas

Prefers the Term “Recycling”

Concerning plant names and job titles, I would prefer that plants be called “raw water recycling plants” and that operators be called “water recycling specialists.” 

I work with Gulf Coast Authority at the 40-acre industrial wastewater treatment facility in Texas City, Texas. GCA has provided regional wastewater treatment services since 1974. We serve two chemical plants and a marine terminal operation. Wastewater is transported by pipeline to our facility, where it is treated with oxygenated sludge. 

The treated stream is then polished in a series of retention ponds before discharge to the Texas City ship turning basin. We have a treatment capacity of 15.7 mgd (5-6 mgd average). I have a B license in wastewater and am lead operator on my shift. 

Clifford Pabón

Makes No Difference

In reference to your article about what title to give to a person or a facility: It doesn’t matter. The operator is an operator, regardless what you call him or her. As for what pretty name you give a wastewater treatment facility, it is still a sewage treatment facility. 

Gary Boileau
T.H. Enterprises

Arizona City, Ariz.

Call Them “Specialists”

In reference to your article, “What’s in a Name? Or a Title?” I have been in the water industry for 38 years and prefer the term “water production facility” and the title of “water production specialist.” 

Kenny Henry
Water Treatment Plant Superintendent
Manhattan, Kan.

Names Matter Greatly

I’ve had issues in explaining to friends what my career and work have been all about. If you bring up wastewater or say that what goes down the sewer is what we clean up, the conversation is over and people slowly move away from you as if you smell. 

A TV news director was the guest speaker at a Wisconsin Wastewater Operators Association Conference in Green Bay a few years ago, and he told the audience that the association needed an image change. Instead of being thought of as “Ed Nortons” who work in the sewers, we are environmentalists protecting resources for future generations. We work in a spirit of cooperation with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. EPA to meet clean-water goals. 

In Illinois, treatment facilities have been renamed “water reclamation facilities.” Their purpose is to reclaim clean water. The treatment facility in Grandville, Mich. (featured in December 2013 TPO) is named “Clean Water Plant.” We visited this facility, and I asked how they came upon that name. In essence, they said: 

“We look at what we do as similar to an industry. We have product coming in and product going out. We have quality standards that must be met. We have operating budgets for which we are held accountable. We are very much in the public eye, and we need to produce 365 days a year.” 

We support TPO 100 percent in efforts to bringing back pride and reason we love this industry. It is time that others recognize the industry for protecting the most valuable resource for life: Clean water! 

Harlan Mueller

Profession Needs Positive Recognition

I have been in the wastewater field for seven years as a pretreatment operator and now two years as an operator of five small rural activated sludge plants in Pennsylvania. This is a career path as far as the job goes, and we as operators are very much overlooked. We work behind the scenes, so to say, and not many people really think about how important our positions are. I believe we need to bring more light to the service we are providing, so that the public will recognize us more, and in a more positive way!    

Mark E. Rightmyer
Class B Wastewater Operations Specialist
Miller Environmental, Pennsylvania

It’s Not a Waste

Regardless of the name used in the industry, I always felt there was no such thing as “waste” water. It is too precious a commodity to be referred to as waste. 

Dale Baker
Environmental Coordinator/Laboratory Director
Deep Creek Lake Laboratory
Oakland, Md.

Professional Perception Wins Out

I have proudly worked in the wastewater field for almost 36 years. When I told people what I did for work, it wasn’t so much the title that they turned up their nose at, it was the perception of the job itself. I have always considered myself to be a “professional,” no matter what title I have held. Although, I do like the title of “water resource recovery specialist.”   

Lucien J. (Lou) Colburn
Chief Operator, Pretreatment Coordinator
City of Brewer Water Pollution Control Facility
Brewer, Maine

Proud to Serve

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Upon graduating from high school in 1976, I enlisted into the U.S. Air Force. My job was to operate, maintain and repair water and wastewater treatment plants; my title was environmental support specialist.

After completing a year of on-the-job training and a Level 5 correspondence course, the title changed to environmental support technician. In essence, I was the operator, mechanic, electrician, lab technician and administrator. I am proud to be in the water and wastewater industry – 35 years and still going strong.

Dave Humpal
Assistant Superintendent
Town of Brownsburg, Ind.

Leave the Names Alone

I do not support the movement to change the titles of wastewater treatment plant operators. The idea behind the movement seems to be that operators would gain respect by giving themselves a title that sounds more appealing. The opposite is true.

For example, I am thinking of looking for a new apartment. When I do, the landlords will ask me what kind of job I have. If I tell them I am a water resource recovery specialist, or a clean-water operator, they will ask what that means. When I tell them that means I operate part of a sewage treatment plant, they will realize that I am trying to sanitize my job title, and think less of me, not more.

The title of your article asked, “What’s in a Name? Or a Title?” The answer is honesty. If I tell people I am a wastewater treatment plant operator, they sometimes react with disgust. They should, because being an operator is occasionally a disgusting job. I can fix being disgusting by taking a shower, and putting on clean clothes. It is harder to repair the damage to my reputation caused by a dishonest job title.

When people look down on me because I am an operator, I don’t mind. I like to be underestimated by people, because that makes it easier to impress them, and thus gain their respect.

Jonathan Field
Operator in Training
Fairfax County, Va.

Is it time you receive the recognition you deserve? Post a comment below with your thoughts or email


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