Retaining Qualified Water Treatment Plant Staff

Ask For Fair Compensation And Benefits

Just about anyone is motivated to work and stick around longer when they are fairly compensated for their time. Work with your supervisors to develop a training plan that lays out a path forward and identify specific experience, training and certification milestones that will result in pay increases.

If you don’t already receive these benefits, ask decision makers to consider offering retirement, paid time off and/or medical benefits. Leadership may occasionally need to be reminded that costs incurred due to frequent staff turnover often far outweigh the cost of providing fair compensation and benefits to current staff members.  

Clarify Operator Roles

When your duties are clear it is easier to perform your job and feel the satisfaction of meeting and exceeding expectations. You may also find that leadership unknowingly asks more of local utility staff than is typically required. The following resources will help you clarify your role for your own benefit as well as help you define your role with leadership:

The following resource offers information for operators on the role of decision-makers and offers suggestions on how to effectively communicate with those in the decision-maker role:

Seek Out Ongoing Opportunities For Training

The better equipped that you are with knowledge needed to carry out your job, the more confident and comfortable you will feel in their position. There are a wide variety of training and certification opportunities offered in all regions of the country. Identify areas of your work that you are interested in learning more about and search for an opportunity to attend a related training or workshop. Connecting with the tribal water community allows you to learn from peers and often leads to ideas for improvement of local services. Below is a list of organizations offering operator training and certification opportunities.

  1. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) – Tribal Water Systems: The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Tribal Water Systems program provides training, certification and technical assistance to help build Tribal capacity in operating, maintaining and managing sustainable drinking and wastewater systems. Training and certification opportunities include level 1-4 water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment and new Tribal utility management certification. Training opportunities are free of charge, although you are responsible for travel and lodging, and available to all Tribes across the country. Region: Nationwide
  2. Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) – Trainings: The Rural Community Assistance Corporation serves rural communities in 13 Western states and Pacific Islands. RCAC provides a variety of trainings relevant to community water systems such as Achieving and Maintaining Compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, Basic Roles & Responsibilities for Board Members and Rate Setting. Trainings are offered live and online and are free of charge. Region: Targeted at small water systems in California, but trainings are open to all Tribes
  3. Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative (ARUC) and Tribal Utility Support (TUS): These two utility support departments at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium offer a two week training course for water treatment plant operators twice per year at the AVTEC campus in Seward, Alaska.
  4. Native American Water Association (NAWA) – Training Available: The Native American Water Association provides some unique training opportunities. Aside from Class 1-4 water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection, treatment and laboratory, they also provide management focused training, on-site training and offer an operator apprenticeship program. Region: Nationwide
  5. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Water – Alaska Training Coalition Calendar: This calendar includes an extensive list of training available to operators and water/sanitation utility managers. The trainings occur across Alaska as well as online.  
  6. United South & Eastern Tribes (USET) – Training: The United South & Eastern Tribes, Inc. offers training to member Tribes on basic water and wastewater operations, laboratory analysis and procedures, basic math, electricity, developing Consumer Confidence Reports and more. Training opportunities are typically emailed directly to Tribes and usually occur onsite. Visit their website for contact information or click here to see a list of Training Opportunities for USET area Tribes. Region: USET area Tribes

Know Where To Turn For Consistent Technical Support

​There is no limit to the situations that water treatment plant operators may find themselves troubleshooting. It would be nearly impossible for one person to possess all of the specialized technical knowledge required to operate, maintain and continuously upgrade a water treatment plant, so it is inevitable that you will at some point require technical support. Make sure that technical support providers have been identified prior to an emergency need for their service and that your local management and leadership understand the need to support you in reaching out. Knowing that they’re you’re not alone in your effort to provide for your people makes a big difference. Below is a list of organizations that offer technical support to operators in different regions.

  1. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) – Technical Assistance: The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona offers a wide variety of technical assistance free of charge (while funding is available) that may be accomplished through onsite visits, phone or email communication. Visit their website or view their ITCA Tribal Water Systems Technical Assistance Fact Sheet to learn more about the kinds of assistance that they offer. Region: nationwide
  2. Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative (ARUC): Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative provides training, management and operations support, and billing, hiring and technical assistance to its 27 member communities. A minimum of one year of participation in the Assisted Billing program is required in order for a community to become eligible for full membership in the collaborative. Region: Alaska
  3. Tribal Utility Support, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
  4. – Tribal Assistance Providers: The website has a great list of organizations; Federal Providers, Regional & Local Providers and Tribal Organizations