The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced its adoption of new national guidelines for wastewater systems operator apprenticeship programs. The new guidelines, developed as a joint effort between DOL and the Water Environment Federation (WEF), define minimum educational and on-the-job learning requirements for operators and establish a clear point of entry into the profession.

“The development of these new guidelines has really been a team effort,” said Christine Radke, technical and educational program manager for WEF. “We are delighted that DOL looked to WEF to lead this process, and we could not have seen it to fruition without industry support.”

Water professionals from around the country, including individuals who developed recognized operator apprenticeship standards in South Carolina and Wisconsin, were instrumental to bringing the guidelines to the national level, Radke said.

The National Guidelines for Wastewater Systems Operator Apprenticeship suggests a two-year intensive schedule of 3,520 work process hours and 480 instructional hours. Work process hours will provide on-the-job experience alongside supervisors and coworkers. Industry curriculum is structured around six pillars: orientation and safety, operations, maintenance, quality control, logistics and administration. Additional instruction focuses on the theoretical aspects of the occupation, such as pumping systems, mathematics and solids management.

The new guidelines were submitted on behalf of WEF by Executive Director Jeff Eger on September 24 and accepted by DOL on November 1. DOL announced the new guidelines to its state divisions, which will work with employers and local sponsors to introduce them to wastewater utilities. The new standards are a model for developing local apprenticeship programs registered with the Office of Apprenticeship (OA) or a State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA) for the wastewater treatment plant operator occupation.

“We believe that widespread adoption of the national standards will lead to more consistency in training and certification, an elevated profile for the operator profession and greater opportunities for reciprocity,” said Radke. “If an operator is certified in one state under the federal standards, he or she should be able to work just as easily in a neighboring state. We’re not there yet, but we are definitely a few steps closer.”

Development of the new operator apprenticeship guidelines is a component of the broader Operator Initiative, a program established by WEF and its member associations to develop the capabilities of wastewater system operators and help raise their visibility as frontline public health professionals. For more information about wastewater collection and treatment operations, visit www.wef.org/OperationsResources.

Active for more than 75 years, the United States Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship system keeps incoming professionals on pace with innovation and technological improvements in their respective fields. For more information, visit www.doleta.gov/OA.