How to Train a Rookie Operator

Do you remember your first day on the job? Now that you're the experienced one, how do you introduce a newcomer to wastewater treatment?
How to Train a Rookie Operator
On the first day of training, pair your rookie up with your lead operator. Job shadowing is one of the best ways to emerge your new hire in the job.

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Starting a new job — especially if it’s in a new career — can be an emotionally intense experience. A new employee will probably be anxious about making a good impression. After all, opinions are formed quickly. In those first few weeks, a new hire will develop an opinion about a new place of employment, and an employer will decide the value of an employee.

But where do you begin? How do you integrate a new employee into plant operations?

The first day
Unless a new hire is for a particular position, it’s usually beneficial to start training in general plant operations, which gives the newbie a general overview of daily workings and weeds out any hidden squeamishness.

Sit a new operator down, and have a brief talk about the industry. Your introduction might sound something like this:

"Wastewater treatment is a solid industry with a strong future, diverse jobs and lots of room for advancement. It is also an industry with inherent danger. Remember, we are dealing with human waste, dangerous chemicals and large equipment. Respect that the job is hazardous, but if you always follow protocol and use personal protective equipment, the hazard is greatly reduced.

Never move a valve or push a button unless you are absolutely certain what the outcome will be. If you have any doubt, ask someone. Bad things can happen, and big messes can result from a careless mistake. But don’t worry; we will break you in gradually so you will be confident with your work.

Some people get into this business and stay at entry level. They are content with hosing tanks and mopping floors. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is so much more that wastewater treatment has to offer. Once you get a strong understanding of how the process works and you get a license under your belt, you can go into the rotation for on-call coverage. You might find lab work is your forte, or maybe you’ll want to get on the collection system crew. The beauty of this business is that a wide range of talents can find a productive home here."

During that first discussion, you can also discuss these points:

  • Safety is the No. 1 concern, and priorities for safety are: safety of personnel, safety of the environment and safety of infrastructure.
  • This business can have hectic moments, but there is almost never a reason to rush into something.
  • Sometimes we have to miss a break, delay our lunch or stay late because the plant comes first.
  • Sometimes we get paid to lean on a railing and look into a tank on a summer afternoon, and sometimes we get paid to respond to a call of sewage gushing from a washing machine at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Shadow your best operator
Unless your lead operator is impatient or has a difficult personality, your newbie should start by shadowing him or her. After setting up a locker and issuing safety equipment, have your newbie follow the lead operator throughout the first day. Your lead operator should explain everything along the way. Encourage the newbie to ask questions, but also remind him or her to be patient, as many things will make sense in the days to come.

The best task to start a newbie on is daily rounds. As a few days go by, doing rounds will give the new operator a strong sense of what normal operations look like. He or she will have the opportunity to see the entire process and to record various parameters worthy of daily scrutiny.

Introduce your newbie to lab work early on because it will help him or her understand how the entire purpose of wastewater treatment is represented in the lab. As operators, we test for minute amounts of pollutants in small samples that represent million gallons of water, which consequently steers our treatment processes.

The general public often regards wastewater treatment as an unusual career. Our industry deals with unsavory components found in wastewater, and new employees might be apprehensive about the “poop factor.” When the novelty wears off, the true value of this career shines through. It might be helpful to envision how your plant would look to a newcomer, and how it represents the industry. Plan ahead as you introduce a newbie to wastewater treatment, and make those first training days comprehensive. Your next model employee deserves it.


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