Industry trends indicate that an increasing number of tenured treatment plant operators are reaching retirement age, so developing a new generation of water and wastewater treatment plant operators has become an urgent need. The Knoxville Utilities Board’s (KUB) Operator Qualification Program was established to meet this need. The program ensures a consistent knowledge base for all operators, reduces the probability and potential of incidents caused by human error, and improves plant and operator efficiency. The program, which immerses new employees in training early on in their careers, has shown great value. In fact, more than 25 percent of KUB’s 33 qualified operators have less than 15 months of on-the-job experience.
Through the program, operators’ critical tasks are outlined, with expectations and evaluation requirements clearly delineated. The program provides a structure for on-the-job training by identifying the process knowledge, instrumentation, maintenance tasks, and related abnormal operation conditions (AOCs) organized by process area. This training leads new employees with varying levels of experience through a logical progression that results in competent treatment plant operators capable of supporting operations at assigned facilities. In addition, employees are cross trained to be multifunctional across all process areas through the program, ensuring fully knowledgeable operators are always on site.
Since it was fully implemented, 14 operators have undergone training and certification through the program. That number represents approximately half of KUB’s current operator workforce and illustrates the importance of the program’s ability to adequately train new employees quickly and efficiently.
With more timely and efficient training through this program, operators become more comfortable in their positions in less time, making for a positive work environment. By strategically incorporating the program and broader corporate workforce development programs alongside daily work tasks, KUB’s new generation of operators experience long-term benefits that allow employees to quickly retain position knowledge while becoming more well-rounded overall.
“As someone who learns more by ‘doing,’ I feel like the program brought me up to speed quicker because it gave me more hands-on experience early in my career,” KUB Operator Tyler Webb said. “This is beneficial because you don’t feel like you are being asked to do too much before you are comfortable, which can often lead to mistakes.”
The Operator Qualification Program has provided KUB with a strong, skilled base of early- and mid-career operators that will pave the way for continually increasing operational efficiency while developing a new generation of adept operators.
For its effective training program, KUB was recognized with a National Environmental Achievement Award in the Workforce Development category during NACWA's Winter Conference in February 2020. Congratulations to KUB and everyone involved!