Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Technicians


Employment Prospects


About 75 percent of 126,400 water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators currently working in the United States are employed by local governments; others work for the federal government, utility companies, or private sanitary services that operate under contracts with local governments. Jobs are located throughout the country, with the greatest numbers found in areas with high populations.

Wastewater treatment plant operators and technicians can find jobs with state or federal water pollution control agencies, where they monitor plants and provide technical assistance. Examples of such agencies are the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. These jobs normally require vocational-technical school or community college training. Other experienced wastewater workers find employment with industrial wastewater treatment plants, companies that sell wastewater treatment equipment and chemicals, large utilities, consulting firms, or vocational-technical schools.

Starting Out

Graduates of most postsecondary technical programs and some high schools can get help in locating job openings from the career services office of the school they attended. Another source of information is the local office of the state employment service. Job seekers may also directly contact state and local water pollution control agencies and the personnel offices of wastewater treatment facilities in desired locations.

In some plants, a person must first work as a wastewater treatment plant technician before becoming an operator or working in a supervisory position. Wastewater treatment plant technicians have many of the same duties as a plant operator but less responsibility. They inspect, study, and sample existing water treatment systems and evaluate new structures for efficacy and safety. Support work and instrumentation reading make up the bulk of the technician's day.

Operators and technicians also find job leads as well as internship and trainee positions through professional associations, such as the Water Environment Federation (https://www.wef.org), which offer job listings in the wastewater field on their Web sites. Also, an Internet search using the words "wastewater treatment plant operator or technician" will generate a list of Web sites that may contain job postings and internship opportunities.

Advancement Prospects

Operators with skills and experience are assigned tasks that involve more responsibility for more complex activities. Some technicians advance to become operators. Some operators advance to become plant supervisors or plant superintendents. The qualifications that superintendents need are related to the size and complexity of the plant. In smaller plants, experienced operators with some postsecondary training may be promoted to superintendent positions. In larger plants, educational requirements are increasing along with the sophistication and complexity of their systems, and superintendents usually have bachelor's degrees in engineering or science.

Some operators and technicians advance by transferring to a related job. Such jobs may require additional education or training to specialize in water pollution control, commercial wastewater equipment sales, or teaching wastewater treatment in a vocational or technical school.

Tips for Entry

Read the Journal of the American Water Works Association and Opflow (both are available at https://www.awwa.org) and Rural Water (http://naylornetwork.com/nrw-nxt) to learn more about the field.

For job listings, visit: 

  • https://www.awwa.org/resources-tools/career-center.aspx
  • https://www.wef.org/about/careers/job-bank
  • https://careers.waterprocommunity.org

Attend the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition (https://www.awwa.org/ace) to network and participate in professional development classes and workshops.  

Visit Work for Water (https://www.workforwater.org) for information on careers.

Use social media to stay up to date on industry developments and learn about job openings. Many professional associations use Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to connect with members and others who are interested in wastewater treatment.