The current talent pool is too small (get it?)
May 12, 2008 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Looking for relatively-secure employment, decent wages, and the satisfaction of helping Planet Earth? There's a coming shortage of workers in the Waste Water Treatment industry! (via)

Although you're gonna wanna hurry up and get your application in. Anything that shows up on Al's Morning Meeting typically gets picked up and pushed forward pretty quickly by the mainstream (ha!--get it, again?) media.
posted by Kibbutz (14 comments total)
Their motto: "Our Duty is Clear".

(with respect to Futurama)

posted by Riki tiki at 3:17 PM on May 12, 2008

I already get paid to deal with other people's shit.
posted by lekvar at 3:18 PM on May 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Actually, waste-water treatment plants are fascinating and are among the top two complex microbial communities that we know a whole lot about (the other one being the rumen of cows, both for obvious economic reasons). How does one turn horribly polluted, nasty waste into clean water with the lowest amount of energy possible? We've gotten it down pretty much to a science (hence the scientific journals on it). I find it super amazing that the water coming out of waste-water treatment plants is often many times cleaner than the lake / river water it is dumped into, if the plant is working fine.

OK, so I just think this whole field is awesome. But I might be in the bacteria-loving, nerdy minority.
posted by Peter Petridish at 3:21 PM on May 12, 2008

Although there are a number of university programs across the country that attract students to the environmental and technology field, the graduating talent pool is too small to fill the growing need for qualified employees.

I'm not sure that "talent pool" is the best phrase to use there.
posted by gimonca at 3:41 PM on May 12, 2008

Cleaning bodies of water in large scale is a fascinating problem, where fascinating means that I have no idea how it can be done. Waste water treatment plant is one section where water behaves in a bit more controlled fashion and some piece-meal approaches can be used, but what to do with a polluted sea? Can you put a waste-water treatment plant on a shore and let it slowly suck pollutants from the sea around it? Do we need to do that at some point, however inefficient it is? The effects of polluted seas to the overall ecosystem is a big unknown factor in our future, and scientists who can solve those problems may be ones who can say that they've saved the world. Waste water plants are laboratories for small scale testing in this enterprise.
posted by Free word order! at 3:48 PM on May 12, 2008

People have an irrational repugnance to working in wastewater treatment. But its not that bad once you get used to it. I took a biologist friend, who was doing run-off analysis at a pogie boat plant, on a tour of the wastewater plant where I was working and he remarked about the smell. I said “What smell?”

I was a welder/pipefitter there, but I was mainly a small farmer (raising goats and chickens at home and pot in the woods) and I was experimenting with a methane digester on the farm so I signed on to a sewerage plant upgrade project to get some experience with a real methane digester. Jimmy Carter was president then and the federal government had been picking up the tab for something like forever for 90% of all wastewater projects. The Army Corps of Engineers was the contractor on all those projects, but Ronald Reagan put an end to all that... and the funding.

Anyway I was the lead pipe guy in the methane digester but, whenever a critical welding thing came up anywhere I was the go to guy. One day my helper and I where dismantling 8 inch flange pipe that ran from the basement up into the digester. Pipe like that is bolted together between two flanges, with a gasket in between and, if its old, you slack off on the bolts and drive a wedge between the flanges to drive them apart. Then you can unscrew the bolts the rest of the way.

So I got called off to do some welding and my foreman came in to keep the job running. I got back just in time to see him getting ready to wack on the wedge with a big hammer. The bolts weren’t just slacked off. They were all the way out. My helper said “They’re ain’t no shit in this pipe is there?”, and backed away. I looked up at 20 vertical feet of 8 inch pipe full of raw sewage as he swung the hammer.

It was horrible... for him. I can still see him in technicolor slow motion standing there for the split second that it took him to freak out and run... with white bits of toilet paper flowing thru the sewerage in his beard.
posted by Huplescat at 3:55 PM on May 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

Heh - I once supported a solution called, "WIMS" - Wastewater Information Management System...

Now - for all those that think I sat in an Ivory tower pushing buttons - uh-uh, nope - this was a distributed meter gathering system with code/database at every treament plant...

Guess what... It would invariably fail at a random plant about 1-2am almost every Friday/Saturday night... Guess who was "junior" and always got paged...

It twas a shitty job, but somebody...
posted by jkaczor at 4:04 PM on May 12, 2008

I worked a summer job during college at an Iowa wastewater treatment plant, and it provided phenomenal visuals of city infrastructure. There's a lot of crazy stuff going on underground! Gigantic man-made caves, rivers, and corridors.

The entire process of filtering wastewater was quite fascinating.
posted by mhectic at 5:00 PM on May 12, 2008

I think water reclaimation facilites of the future will be highly guarded complexes more secure than Fort Knox. I recall an NPR segment many years ago around the post-9/11 times when water plants were considered 'terrorist targets'. The narrator of the story had two interesting facts that have stood out in my mind: (1) water plants are still using 100 year old technology and (2) they could be upgraded for a minimal fee increase on our water bill. #2 led to a impromtu survey where water bill customers were asked if they would pay a little extra money a month for better quality drinking water or more cable TV channels. They chose TV, big shocker. Check out the EPA's standards for all the toxic crap in our water system, they keep raising the acceptable limits because it's too expensive to update our water cleansing systems and since no one is dying in the streets from PCBs, hormones and lead we won't see any changes. We've done quite job polluting all our major fresh water rivers in the US and we better step into the 21st century to deal with all the high demands of water drinking consumers. So go to school, become a hydro engineer and figure out a cheap way to get H20 from a superfund site.

posted by lsd4all at 5:43 PM on May 12, 2008

The unequal age distribution in ages of workers isn't because there is a big shortage of workers. There isn't much turnover in the job, and that the total workforce isn't growing very quickly. Most of the workforce is not in skilled positions. So don't quit your day job too quickly to start that second career.

The plants are getting much better though, it's true. The tertiary treatment plants in MD are engineering marvels. The dischage from WWTP's is usually very clear, don't mistake clear for clean. It's a nutrient rich solution and one of the biggest problems our estuaries and rivers face despite the recent improvements.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 5:50 PM on May 12, 2008

For an interesting look at wastewater treatment and a pretty good SF read, you should check out Nicola Griffith's Slow River. Very fascinating read.
posted by snwod at 11:00 PM on May 12, 2008

hurf durf, people work with poo!!!
posted by wilful at 11:44 PM on May 12, 2008

Perhaps someone can help me - I get it that the microbes eat the poo and Evian flows out the other end of the process.

But what happens to the bleach, cleaning products and other inorganic crap that flows into the system. Is there Barry Scott's microbial nemesis somewhere out there just munching up liquid cleaning products?
posted by MuffinMan at 6:21 AM on May 13, 2008

I am not surprised that there's a shortage coming up. My father-in-law manages a wastewater treatment plant. He has worked there for 30 years, and he's retiring in a few years (around the time he turns 60) with a pension equal to nearly 100% of his current salary. I imagine there's a whole generation like him, with stable, well-paying municipal jobs and outstanding pensions waiting at the end of the line. He admits he belongs to the last generation with this type of retirement plan...
posted by Lord Kinbote at 7:58 AM on May 13, 2008

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