Profits in People: Training Helps Plants Fill Gaps
Spurred by European takeovers and other forms of
privatization stressing efficiency and knowledge, U.S. water/wastewater
companies are expanding training programs to fill gaps caused by plant
closings, cost-cutting and downsizing. Whether they grow their training
programs in-house, use outside vendors or a combination of the two, executives
say they are able to do a better job filling skill shortages that ensure safer
and more efficient plants and that comply with increasingly stringent
Municipalities across the United States are having employees
trained. "We're constantly training," said Chris Heelis, safety
officer, Littleton Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant in Colorado, whose
agency has hired National Technology Transfer, Inc. (NTT), an Englewood
(Colo.)-based training organization that conducts courses onsite.
Out in the East, Massachusetts Water Resource Authority has
enrolled most employees in 26 different training courses to combat many early
In addition, there appears to be no end in sight for this
training wave. Charles Hernandez of the City of Flagstaff, Ariz., Municipal
Wastewater Treatment Plant, reports that management already has approved a
substantial training budget for fiscal 2003.
Training to Increase Safety
Safety continues to be a major driver of training programs,
according to John Kolak, division manager for Compliance & Business Systems
at NTT. "Skills that create a safe workplace are the same skills that
create an efficient, reliable, smoothly running plant," he said.
"Our industry is hazardous, so we safety train
people," said Heelis, himself a certified CPR instructor.
Flagstaff's Hernandez, and George H. Denhard, manager of
technical training at Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA), stress
safety by offering confined space entry and lockout-tagout training. In
addition, MWRA offers air quality and incident command systems courses. All new
and current employees are required to participate in training. Denhard promotes
employee-to-employee safety by training all employees on diversity, violence
and worker protection. Safety training, he states, is all about preventing
injuries and avoiding liability problems.
While safety training can prevent accidents, plant
breakdowns and lapses in government compliance, plant operators also stress
specific skill training in technology, government compliance, prevention of
outages and downtime and coping with heavy service demand. They also are
offering more cross-training to help fill the gaps caused by early retirement,
hiring freezes and cost-cutting.
Enhancing Technical Skills
"We're getting new technology equipment from the U.K.
for tertiary nitrogen removal, and now we need to get the training on operating
it," said Heelis of Littleton-Englewood. Daniel Martin, engineering
manager, Onondaga County Water Authority, Syracuse, N.Y., took a programmable
logic controller course and is calling for radio communications and fiber optics
training at his facility.
MWRA offers a leadership training program, supervisory
skills for technical professionals to senior and middle managers. Flagstaff's
Hernandez says his facility has provided skills training to him and an
electrician colleague on pump maintenance, electrical and programmable
controllers. As the 20-year-old Flagstaff facility upgrades its monitoring and
level checking technology, employees will get training in basic electronics,
calibrating instrumentation, computer, electrical, pump maintenance, oxidation
ditches and lagoon treatment.
When MWRA needed electricians, plumbers and HVAC people,
they developed an in-house apprenticeship program incorporating training. It
included courses on pumps, pumping, chemical feeding, chemical safe practices,
valves and electricity. MWRA offers an in-house computer and outsourced
communications training programs for clerical and support staff. Since most
required training tends to be technical and varied, MWRA relies on outsourcing
providers for expertise.
According to Denhard, a plant opening created a need for
licensing and certifications. He developed an
apprenticeship/licensing/certification program and received state and union approval.
Therefore, he was able to adjust the training to specific local needs.
Flagstaff's Hernandez also recognizes a need to make training more attuned to
plant needs. Currently, training comes from Northern Arizona University, so it
is not keyed to his specific site.
Regulatory compliance also is stimulating training. OSHA
regulations govern water/wastewater plants and mandate training and engineering
controls of their operation. While regulations are generic, interpretations of
the regulations also must be considered when determining compliance with OSHA
There seems to be a convergence between trainers' goals and
governmental regulatory agencies' goals, as both seek to enhance workplace
safety and employee operating knowledge. Thus, training managers are focusing
on achieving regulatory compliance.
"Compliance often requires annual, effective refresher
training," Kolak said. Employees must demonstrate hands-on proficiency to
accomplish a task safely. This is why water/wastewater training is hands-on.
Regulations are a force behind increasing training, according to Martin of
Onondaga County Water. Employees and their employers are recognized for
Since some of the basic regulations are more than seven
years old, the industry has had time to become familiar with their
requirements, train current employees and enter a phase of refresher training
for all but new hires. OSHA regulations require that management and employees
identify hazards and are familiar with equipment and systems to protect
themselves from injury and illness. Regulations mandate training assuring
safety in the workplace and retraining for process changes and new tasks.
The goal of Heelis is to meet all OSHA
requirements—particularly the OSHA Lockout/Tagout standard, 29 CFR
1910.147. While OSHA does not regulate the MWRA facilities, Denhard said his
organization has adopted OSHA standards.
OSHA is not the only regulatory game in town. Trainees at
MWRA must meet state-mandated requirements for certification or licensing in
drinking water/wastewater treatment, hazardous waste site work, harbor
chemicals off-loading and electrical work. A state "right to know"
law also requires informing employees about workplace hazards. The training
program handles compliance with this law.
Colorado requirements make Heelis certify his operations
staff. This is accomplished through training. Flagstaff's plant is governed by
regulations of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. EPA training
also is important. Heelis is proud of his plant's EPA awards. In addition, many
local district attorneys are leveling criminal penalties against those
organizations with egregious violations of health and safety standards.
Training as Prevention
The worst thing that can happen at a water/wastewater plant
is to stop running. "Training helps prevent outages and downtime,"
Kolak said. "It combats outages resulting from human error and helps
restore service faster." Knowledge of better ways to do things safely, he believes,
provides employees with additional tools and more creative ways to use them to
keep service up and running.
Martin and Hernandez say increased training helps
water/wastewater facilities handle problems caused by outages and downtime.
Martin believes in training people at the site where a breakdown might occur.
"The closer you are to what needs fixing," Martin
said, "the easier it is to fix."
Hernandez believes training will help his people avoid or
shorten service interruptions by troubleshooting and recognizing potential
According to Heelis, Littleton has an emergency response
plan as well as back-up equipment for power outages and other catastrophic
incidents. All employees are tested under that plan so the plant is prepared.
MWRA is instituting an in-house reliability-centered maintenance-training
program for group leaders and maintenance people. Measurable increases in
productivity and reliability are expected from the preventive/predictive
In a water/wastewater industry characterized by resizing,
downsizing, layoffs and turnover, cross training is broadly used to help do
more with less. Training across a skill line (e.g., teaching a mechanic to do
electrical work) can help water/wastewater facilities become more efficient,
but cross training is a double-edged sword. It can promote safety or compromise
it. Assigning work that is too complex for a cross-trained person to complete
safely is a danger. The challenge is to know when a cross-trained person can
safely perform a task and when a specialist must be used.
Denhard of MWRA will soon learn what doing more with less
means. The state has offered early retirement to 150, or 10 percent, of the
Authority's 1,500 employees. He expects 130 or more retirements by operators,
chief operators, maintenance, electricians, area supervisors, white collar and
Kolak sees value in cross training operations and
maintenance people and a way for the MWRA to survive with fewer workers. MWRA
management reached an accord with the unions for a productivity improvement
program allowing operator-maintenance cross training. Operators attend valve,
lubrication and pump classes. Maintenance people take introduction to
water/wastewater systems and disinfection classes. Flagstaff's Hernandez sees
operations as the most important function where cross training is needed.
Functions include temperature and sludge depth checks, taking reads, changing
chlorine and SO2 tanks and doing light maintenance such as greasing and oiling.
Onondaga County Water's Martin and Flagstaff's Hernandez use
cross training to develop a broadly skilled worker. Hernandez's facility is
developing skill-based pay to offset privatization, reemphasizing cross
training. At Littleton Englewood all employees are cross trained on safety,
specific skills, wastewater treatment, chemistry, administration, lab and
facility goals to gain knowledge needed to maintain an award-winning record.
Training: A Management Tool
The water/wastewater industry has turned to training as a
solution to a skilled personnel crisis created by privatization and ownership
changes. Training managers seek a safer, more regulation-compliant industry
with facilities running smoothly and reliably. Outsourcing is a strategy for
organizations that do not want huge in-house training staffs. Tomorrow's
successful and profitable water/wastewater facilities will be those that learn
to use the new investment in training most effectively to meet the challenges