If you have mechanical skills or a manufacturing background, then becoming an operator in a water or wastewater plant should be an easy transition. Despite anticipated job losses in other utilities, the prospects for water utilities are good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook says, “Employment of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2006 and 2016, which is faster than the average for all occupations.”
“To get in at the entry level takes a few days or weeks of training,” says Craig Woolard, president of the American Water Works Association. Candidates must also pass a state certification exam. AWWA provides both online training and exams, although both are widely available at community colleges.
You can also seek a one-year certificate in water quality and wastewater treatment, which would increase your competitiveness—or you can do so on the job. Most such programs are offered by trade associations like AWWA.
Jobs are typically full time with good benefits. The AWWA’s 2008 salary survey, which Woolard says is still applicable, indicates that average operator pay ranges from about $38,000 for small utilities to nearly $50,000 for larger ones. That’s because “operators are the front line that is responsible for the safety of water for a community,” Woolard says.
To work for a water or wastewater utility, Woolard advises learning about the industry and checking job opportunities at the AWWA’s website and your local water/wastewater utility’s site.
Seven more to check out
Here’s a list of other jobs to consider. They offer a median salary of $35,000 or more and require one year or less of training. We’ve included the job title, the Labor Department’s estimate of job availability in that field over the next decade, and median salary in 2008.
• Police and sheriff’s patrol officer, excellent, $51,410
• Food service manager, good, $46,320
• Executive secretary, average, $40,030
• Licensed practical/vocational nurse, better than average, $39,030
• Sales representative (wholesale and manufacturing), average, $51,330
• Legal secretary, average, $39,860
• Wage and salary administrative services manager, average, $73,520
Bridget Mintz Testa is a Houston-based writer who covers workforce issues and technology.