State certification is necessary to be a water treatment plant operator. There are different certification levels that are based on factors such as experience and education. Entry-level positions can be pursued in this field with a high school diploma, although an associate's degree may increase job prospects.
Water treatment plant operators provide the public with a clean, safe water supply by removing contaminants and monitoring quality. Operators are required to earn certification through the state or a certification organization. While most training is done on the job, prospective operators can prepare for the career by completing a degree or certificate program.
|Career||Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator|
|Required Education||High school diploma or 2-year degree|
|Other Requirements||Certification required|
|Projected Growth (2018-2028)*||-5%|
|Median Annual Salary (2018)*||$46,780|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Water Plant Operator License Information
Water plant operators must be certified by their states of employment. Most states offer four levels of certification and award them according to education, experience and plant size. Entry-level operators typically begin at the first level of certification, which requires a high school diploma, one year of experience and a passing score on an exam. Advancing levels require increasing hours of education and experience. Small water plant operators usually need only a lower level of certification that entails less experience and education.
Some states allow operators to transfer certification from another state; however, some may have to re-earn certification when moving to a new state. Widely recognized professional organizations, such as the Association of Boards of Certification (ABC), offer certification programs that are typically accepted by multiple states. ABC offers four levels of water treatment plant certification, which require a high school diploma, increasing amounts of experience and education. For example, a class four certification may require 1,800 hours of postsecondary education and four years of experience with two of those years in a supervisory role, as well as a passing exam score of at least 70%.
Water Plant Operator Credential Information
Formal Education Options
There are no formal education requirements for entering a career as an operator; however, employers favor candidates with an associate degree or certificate in water technology because they need less on-the-job training. These 2-year degree programs can be completed in community colleges and trade schools. They usually focus on fundamental treatment procedures, regulations and leadership skills. Courses may include laboratory analysis, quality monitoring, backflow procedures, equipment maintenance and supervising. While formal training prepares students for a career in water treatment operation, it does not necessarily provide state certification.
Since they control and maintain plant machinery, water treatment operators must be familiar with mechanics. The position requires computer proficiency and skills in chemistry, math and data analysis. Operators must be physically capable and in healthy condition because the position is physically demanding and often involves working with toxic chemicals in dirty, odorous and loud environments. Water treatment plants operate on a constant basis, so operators must be willing to work flexible and long hours including overtime, evenings and weekends.
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that positions for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators will decrease between 2018 and 2028. This is about the same as most other jobs across the country. Also according to the BLS, as of May 2018 the mean annual salary for these positions was $49,490. The nonresidential building construction industry currently pays the highest average wage, with management of companies and enterprises paying the next highest.
Water plant operators are vital in ensuring communities have access to safe water. All states require that they be certified. They may be able to enter this field with a high school diploma, but will need extensive work experience and passing exam scores to advance in the certification levels.