Industry Certification of High School Graduates: Is the Industry Ready?
By Tim McVeigh, FWPCOA Executive Director
The Florida Water & Pollution Control Operators Association (FWPCOA) has been a long-time provider of voluntary certification programs to Florida’s water utility industry, and recognizes the value of a properly trained worker to industry employers. Because of the association’s status in the industry and its commitment to training and certifying Florida’s operators, Brevard Public Schools, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) have asked the FWPCOA to consider providing industry certification to high school students graduating from Brevard Public School’s Academy of Water Resource Technology, who complete the FDOE’s Environmental Water Technology (EWT) program and who achieve the qualifications established by the FWPCOA for the certification. Students graduating from career academy programs established across the state that adopt similar standards would also be eligible for industry certification.
The Academy of Water Resource Technology
The Brevard Academy began in January 2011 as a three-year secondary school program offering the curriculum framework for the FDOE’s EWT program. In their sophomore and junior years, high school students who participate in the academy focus on numerous learning objectives related to the water industry, and in their senior year, take coursework that has been reviewed and approved by the FDEP as having met the Department’s standards as a Water Treatment Plant Operator Class C course. The curriculum framework may be viewed at http://www.fldoe.org/workforce/dwdframe/1213/ag/rtf/8007100.rtf.
Students participating in the Academy must also obtain a minimum of 150 hours of field experience, verified by a licensed water professional and an Academy instructor. The program requires each student to maintain a log book of his or her field experience, documenting the date, location and nature of the field experience, which would become a part of the student’s portfolio. As the field experience is considered an extension of the classroom, the school board would assume liability for the student. The 150 hours of field experience would also count towards the 2,080 hours of experience required by the FDEP for a Class C Drinking Water Treatment Plant Operator license.
By request from Brevard Public Schools, the FDEP granted a variance to the rule that requires an applicant to possess a high school diploma, or equivalent, in order to be eligible for the Florida operator licensing examination. The variance allows the students participating in the Academy, and who have completed their senior year course of study in the program, to take the Water Treatment Plant Operator Class C licensing examination before graduating from high school. The variance directs the FDEP to withhold the examination scores until they receive a copy of the students’ high school diploma.
Brevard Public Schools plans to expand the academy and begin offering curriculum in wastewater treatment, starting in the 2013/2014 school year. Besides Brevard, four additional county school boards are now offering the EWT program in their respective secondary schools. Each school board may also request the examination rule variance from the FDEP to allow students participating in the program to take the operator licensing examination in their senior year before graduating.
Qualifications for Industry Certification
In order to receive industry certification, the FWPCOA would require each student candidate to accomplish all of the following five qualifications:
The FWPCOA would be required to maintain a database of the industry certificates, and each certificate would bear its own unique number, much like the Association now does for its voluntary certification programs. For each industry certificate issued by the FWPCOA to a student completing a EWT program, the respective county school board would receive Career and Professional Education Act funds from Workforce Florida, Inc. to help perpetuate the program.
Before the FWPCOA may issue industry certification, it must determine a title for the certification (Drinking Water Treatment Technologist?) and apply to Workforce Florida, Inc. to be included on its Comprehensive Industry Certification List for the Career and Professional Education Act. One of the tasks required by the application process is to identify the employers in Florida, and in the United States, who would recognize the industry certification.
Industry recognition is critical not only for the application process, but also for providing assurance to the students graduating from the EWT program that they will be considered for job openings in the water utility industry. Would the industry be receptive to hiring these graduates, who have achieved industry certification, as operator trainees or apprentices, so they can earn the additional hours of experience required to qualify for a Class C operator license? Would human resource departments across the state recognize the value that job applicants with industry certification could bring to the organization?
At the 2012 Florida Water Resources Conference, the FWPCOA met with representatives from the Florida Water Environments Association and the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association to discuss industry certification of high school students completing the EWT program and achieving the qualifications required for industry certification. These associations expressed interest in getting the information out to their members and utility councils, to gain their support and recognition.
An informal poll conducted by the FWPCOA at this year’s conference showed that there is support to hire high school graduates with industry certification for operator and non-operator positions, but many also indicated that the certificate holders should not expect to receive preferential treatment in the hiring process. Several respondents provided their contact information in support of recognizing the industry certification.
The FWPCOA also believes it is important to gain support from the Florida League of Cities and its members for the industry certification. Municipalities and counties represent the largest sector of water utility industry employers in Florida, and gaining the League of Cities’ support would be extremely beneficial in assuring the success of the proposed industry certification.
Your Assistance Requested!
The four organizations working on this project fully support the initiative, as it is critical to the sustainability of the water utility industry in Florida. Not only does the industry certification project provide future workers for the industry, but it is essential in continuing the mission of protecting public health and the environment.
If you or your agency would like to assist the FWPCOA in its quest for industry recognition of the proposed industry certification, contact Executive Director Tim McVeigh at Exec-Director@fwpcoa.org or complete and email the following survey.
Click here for the survey
Thank you in advance for your support!