Need Training? AWWA Announces New Operator Scholarship Program

The new One AWWA Operator Scholarship is aimed at helping operators gain education and training. See how you can apply.

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With a need for water plant operators growing, training and continuing education are more important than ever. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an additional 7,000 water and wastewater operators will be needed over the next decade.

A new scholarship program offered by the American Water Works Association aims to help with treatment plant operator education and training. The One AWWA Operator Scholarship, launched in January 2016, is funded through AWWA matching funds and 22 state/regional AWWA sections participating in the program.

Although AWWA does have a regular scholarship program, this is the first one specifically for operators (and not university based). “The really great thing about this is it gives some of our sections that don’t have a scholarship program the opportunity to fund education and training,” says Sharon Powers, director of administration and development for the AWWA.

“The technology is getting more complicated; the plants are getting more complicated,” says Powers, who estimates that 30 to 50 percent of current water professionals may be retiring in the next decade. “(Training) is going to be a continual need as we look at the water industry as a whole.”

Of AWWA’s 43 regional sections, 22 have signed on to participate. “We expect that number to increase,” says Powers. “We knew there would be interest in this,” she adds. “Operators are a critical part of the water operations. We really want to focus on that segment of the water profession.”

Each participating section can offer up to $2,000 for the scholarships, which are distributed at the section’s discretion. For example, a section could offer one or more scholarships with the funds. AWWA will match up to $1,000 per section.

“I didn’t want to create something so rigid that some (sections) could not participate. I wanted to be able to make it work for the smallest or largest sections,” Powers says. “We wanted to ensure that it would be sustainable,” adds Powers, who plans to make this an annual scholarship program.

The individual sections can set the requirements, criteria, time frame and distribution as they choose, Powers says. “Our only requirement is it has to be focused on operator training.”

Ensuring a strong workforce of operators and recruiting a new generation to the career is essential, Powers says. “Recruitment is paramount,” she says. “I like to tell people that before I came to AWWA, I had no idea how water got to my tap.”

Spreading the word about water plants, what they do and how they are staffed is key to growing the industry. “I think the story needs to get out,” she says. “These are really critical positions. There’s a job security; there’s a whole industry continually looking for a workforce. All of us have the duty to get that word out.”

For more specifics on the individual AWWA sections participating, visit


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