TT027 – The Future of Operator Certification

In this episode we’re chatting with Paul Bishop, president and CEO of Water Professionals International, about water and wastewater certification in a post-pandemic world. Our conversation includes ideas for the future as well as the shifts that will be needed to recruit new water professionals.

Topics Discussed

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About the Guest

Paul Bishop, CAE, has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Water Professionals International (WPI) since February 2008. Paul is an energetic business leader with 30 years of experience in the private, government, and not-for-profit sectors.

Paul has actively engaged WPI leadership and staff to advance the quality and integrity of environmental certification programs and expanded WPI membership to include organizations and individuals from across the globe. Under Paul’s leadership, WPI developed industry recognized standardized exams, created an independent commission to enhance program integrity, established a professional designation for water operators, and established the water industry’s first comprehensive, uniform standards for water operator certification programs.

Paul attained his Certified Association Executive credential in 2011, the hallmark of committed association professionals. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Nebraska Wesleyan University. Paul and his wife, Susan, reside in West Des Moines with their 19-year-old twin daughters, Ella and Abby, and 17-year-old son, Charlie.

Episode Transcript

Steve Wilson: [00:00:00] Well, hey Paul, thanks for joining us today. I’m looking forward to talking to you about all the things that WPI does, and so today our guest is Paul Bishop, who’s executive director of Water Professionals International. So tell us what you do.

Paul Bishop: Thanks. Steve. Yep. Paul Bishop with Water Professionals International. Formerly the Association of Boards of Certification for the past 50 years, but changed our name in 2022 to kind of reflect some of the things that we do now. I’ve been president and CEO with WPI; I just celebrated 15 years.

Steve Wilson: Congratulations.

Paul Bishop: Thanks. Yep. I know there are a few people who didn’t think I’d make a past one or two, but here I am still and for some reason they’ve kept me around and we’ve been having fun. But my role, as president, CEO is to work with the board and our volunteers to ensure the vision and mission as organization are first and foremost.

And so, it’s been a fun journey and I really have enjoyed this time with WPI and looking forward to the what the next kind of 10 years or so brings.[00:01:00]

Jennifer Wilson: And what do you love about the work that you do?

Paul Bishop: I gotta tell you, I really enjoy Jennifer, the, you know, let me, let me back up a little bit on that. The reason I say that is I think after 15 years, I’m getting a little introspective, I think as I enter maybe the last 10 years of my work. And honestly, what I love about this job is the ability to just affect change.

Our board gives us a lot of leeway to do that, but I get to work with amazing board and volunteers, and I’m not just saying that I truly mean it. When we get done from our conference, a hundred, hundred 50 people that are there really inspire us, like we come back energized and I think that’s it. Everyone has an amazing story in this industry.

So some of these service oriented people wanting to just give back and I think honestly, that’s probably what I love most about this job is just the ability to work with an incredible team. I have a team of six, seven, if you count me, but let’s be honest, they’re doing the heavy lifting, so I get to work with them every day on a mission that’s about [00:02:00] increasing the professionalism and recognition of today’s water and wastewater operators. Kind of a cool, kind of a cool job. It’s a lot of fun.

Jennifer Wilson: Yes, for sure.

Steve Wilson: And I’ll certainly second that about coming back from the meeting. I was there this year and some of the stories are just really inspiring. The staff person from Alaska DEC who talked about she was an operator, wanted to be an operator, and her, her town wouldn’t let her because she was a woman and eventually she went out and now she’s you know, with staff with the state agency and helping support operators all over the state of Alaska.

And it’s really, yeah. Cool stuff. We plan to talk to her at some point as well, so.

Paul Bishop: I know and you have those all over and the really cool thing is when I get to meet people like that, I get to talk to ’em about becoming a professional operator. We get to share their story. You know, your podcast, we’re working on a blog. To me, that’s the best part of this job is us getting to meet those people and maybe, hopefully highlighting, getting to share their stories.

Cuz I think those are just the best inspiration for what we do.

Jennifer Wilson: For [00:03:00] sure.

Steve Wilson: All right, so, we ask this of everyone. So what, what’s one personal fun fact about you that most of us might not know?

Paul Bishop: Well, when I was 16, I hit a hole in one. That was the high point of my golf career. It was a par three. And I can tell you, I pretty much, I , shanked an iron got it in there. I mean, we were looking all over, my dad is sun, it’s right here. And so that that’s probably one of the few things that people don’t know about me that’s kind of a fun fact. Modern. That’s back then. I don’t know, modern day fun fact. I don’t know. Probably my fun, my fun thing now is two and a half years ago, I put down a small deposit for a Rivian truck made in Normal, Illinois.

Jennifer Wilson: Yeah.

Paul Bishop: And I got it this May, so that has kind of been a fun thing is having my first electric vehicle and have it be a truck. So that is probably my most fun fact. I had to save up for that for the last 50 years. But, [00:04:00] but it’s been fun to drive and so that’s probably my fun modern day fact is I get to drive an electric truck.

Steve Wilson: Oh, that’s so cool. We have one at the Water Survey and we haven’t out who owns it yet. We are like, yeah, somebody had to be planning early because they’re not available unless you plan for it like you said a couple years ago.

Paul Bishop: So quick detour. In 2019, I was, I, I was driving a Maxima or was, you know, I’m in my fifties actually. Today is actually my birthday. I’ve turned 56 today. But what was funny was I was like, I’m getting too old, old to climb in and outta this Maxima, you know, kind of thing.

And I wanted something bigger, but I wanted something psychological. So I, I was Googling and up came Rivian, and I’m like, all right, a thousand dollars refundable. All right, I’ll splurge. Didn’t tell my family. Didn’t tell my wife. And then Covid hits. So I’m like, oh, everything was put on hold, everything, you know? So just sat around and somewhere at the end of 2020, beginning of 2021, I was with someone and only a few people know, [00:05:00] but who didn’t know was my family, including my wife.

And then we’re out and one of my buddies says, so where’s that Rivian? Where’s that truck? And my wife is like “what, what truck?” Oh yeah. And then my family made fun of me for the next year. Like this is never happening cuz of Covid. This experimental truck is never coming out. And I kept saying, I think it is. I think it is.

And then in April we are literally on a family trip to see her parents and I get a text, your truck is gonna be ready. And it ended up being ready like in two weeks. And I, so it was funny. The turnaround was incredible. So it was two and a half years I waited for it, and then it’s been fun.

But but the whole funny thing was my family never thought it was gonna cut your fruition.

Steve Wilson: That’s awesome.

Paul Bishop: But it did.

Jennifer Wilson: So, Paul, do you have someone that you consider your water hero, someone whose work in water or public health that you’ve really admired?

Paul Bishop: Honestly, probably the one, one of the few people that has made an impact in my life is Jean Bennett Bailey. Jean, who was [00:06:00] past chair of AWWA, she worked for Fairfax Water, was the public affairs person, and then became chair. She’s, I think only the second woman to be president or chair of AWWA. She was such an advocate for young professionals and operators. She was an operator’s operator kind of person, and she, you know, she worked everything from a junior operator to a short order cook in her day. And just an amazing woman. I always think fondly of her, she welcomed us and really tried to partner with us on things. So yeah, that’s probably the one person I would really admire.


Jennifer Wilson: Very cool.

Steve Wilson: Yeah. That’s awesome. So today we’re gonna talk about workforce and certification. WPI is a certification provider for many states, most of the states I guess. And we talk a lot about workforce issues and how certification and continuing education and all those things in the water and wastewater world can be [00:07:00] issues for all of that.

So, I thought today we should discuss some of the things you and I have talked about in the past even, or we’ve seen at some of the WPI conferences. There’s been a talk of an operator shortage for a long time. I, I look back and at least 15 years ago, people were talking about an operator shortage and, you know, we didn’t quite see the same type of shortage that you’d normally see because we saw folks retiring and then taking second jobs.

So for a while that was delayed, in my opinion. So now we’re starting to see examples of where, especially locally, folks are taking it upon themselves, those that have the wherewithal to develop programs and to deal with this workforce issue. But there hasn’t been anything really large scale that’s been at least that successful.

What can we do to add momentum to all of this? A lot of older operators retired and then continued to work as contract operators, but now those folks are all leaving and and so those, there’s a bigger hole I think we’re gonna see soon.

Paul Bishop: I agree with you, Steve whole-heartedly. I think the recession helped keep [00:08:00] people and delayed that tsunami that people were talking about. But now I think we became kind of, complacent.

Oh, that wasn’t as bad, kind of Y2K kind of thing. I do think you’re right. I think we’re about to hit something and people are, I don’t wanna say panic, but I think there’s an urgency I haven’t seen. And, and I go, you guys go to, conferences and you’re in tune with as many of the initiatives as I am.

And I go to One Water or One Water Summit and some of these things are the major conferences and you hear about all these initiatives and they’re so awesome locally. Here’s one, here’s one thing, and again, not to do too much self-promotion, but I am with WPI and it’s more honestly, certification in general.

We talk about ways to get people into the industry and all the studies say, Hey, junior high or early high school, get, get in front of kids and do some of that. And I completely agree with that. I would love, as an industry if we could figure out our own PSA system, you know, [00:09:00] come up with our own PSA or promotional things similar to what some other industries do in terms of just getting in front of today’s youth.

But I do think, especially as a country, we have not done ourselves a, a service. I think with viewing trades less than college to some extent. You know, the Canadians have done such a great job, like with the Red Seal program and things like that of really promoting trades. I, I view water wastewater operators as more than just a trade.

I mean, it really is a STEM. You know, you’ve got biology, chemistry, math, I mean, but we are unique because we have not only that component, but we also have a very hands on component to this work. So where, where I view certifications coming in is sometimes I think we look at it too much as a barrier and we talk about all these things to get people in, but I also wanna talk about, but really it is a career and I want people to value the, the journey of becoming [00:10:00] operator and being certified.

That it’s something that we, they should be proud of, not look as a hurdle. I know getting my certification, I was really proud of it. I know, you know, Haley on my team has gotten her certification and the certification personnel you guys have gotten your degrees and, you know, certifications. I mean, it, it, to me, I think we’ve, we’ve undervalued what that means.

And so I think as an industry, I would like us not only to continue focusing, you know, take some of the examples, but I do believe if we look at certification more as something to be achieved, something to be proud of, and that with that comes pay, accolades, reward, I think that could be a way for us to, on a larger scale, one way to kind of bring people in and understand that this is more than just a job.

It really is an opportunity for a career, a professional career.

Steve Wilson: Yeah, what you say about combining STEM and hands-on work is just so true. I, you know, I grew up on a farm and I think about why many operators struggle with [00:11:00] certification exams? It’s because of the math. And so those that are capable and, you know, going those directions, not only do they use those skills, but then they also, oh they’re out doing different things every day and it’s, I mean, it’s a unique type of job for sure.

Paul Bishop: It is, and you know, and we can touch on some of that as we talk, but I do believe that really it makes our industry very different and it also makes what people are doing and how we’re training and teaching people much more unique than I think a standard desk job or trade job, for say, plumbers or gas or electric.

Operators have a much more unique I think day-to-day operational, you know, situation than, than a lot of other trades.

Steve Wilson: I didn’t even think about the fact that, you know, you talk about a, a plumber or an electrician. They’re going from one building to the next, working a job for six months and then moving on maybe in a different town, but a water or wastewater operator, they’re providing public health protection for the community they likely live in.

And [00:12:00] that’s their job is to protect the people, their, their own families, their friends. There’s so much to that that we probably need to to push.

Paul Bishop: And to your point, I think the ones who are good at it, and I do believe nine, nine out of 10 operators are really good. And that’s why I also think those people who are in it, love it because I don’t think they, it is a job, but I think it actually is more than a job if they, you know, if they embrace what you just said, those core things of, wow, I’m giving back, I’m providing my kids, my kids friends, my neighbors, you know, this, this life sustaining water and I’m helping our environment and I think we as an industry have really not, you know, we, we could do better about highlighting that and those stories and that’s, you know, that’s when you talk about people from Alaska or you know, your podcasts and those things. I think these are the opportunities we have to really showcase some of those stories and, and tell people it is more than just a job.

It really, I, I view that and I think that’s, When, you know, Jennifer, when you asked me about what [00:13:00] I love about it, that’s, I kind of, you know, I, like I said, I’m 56 today, but I feel like, you know, sometimes I get like a giddy school boy, you know what I’m talking about? Because it is an opportunity to just share.

And, you know, that’s the thing, these, these men and women, these people, they are so humble and they don’t share their stories. It’s incumbent upon us, I think, to kind of help draw them out because they are, they’re most of ’em, pretty humble and won’t talk about themselves.

Jennifer Wilson: Tagging onto this, are there more strategies we as an industry need to be using to attract new operators, particularly those younger people who maybe have a perception of what this field is really about or , I think we talk a lot about tech savviness and that kind of evolution from the youth today to maybe those that are retiring have kind of a very different perspective on technology.

So what else do we need to be doing?

Paul Bishop: I think it really does start with talking about the core of the job, talking about some of the fundamentals, [00:14:00] like, hey there is a tech, especially now. Kim Dyches from Utah had a funny story where he goes, I had these, these young men and they were new, and he’s like, I think they, they were just out of, maybe they were community college, and he’s like tech savvy.

They had their iPads, they’re working on our system, and he said, yep. And then our system went down. And he was like, they didn’t know how to shut off a pump. And he’s like, oops, I had to get out there he is like, he was telling the story how they were using the technology at a point where they didn’t know where the shutoff was, and he left.

He goes there’s a funny oversight kind of, kind of now, but how there is such now a, a technical , electronic point, within this job that it has more of that. So I think it is talking about the basics with, with regards to just all that goes into it. That it does have job security, that it is about service to one’s community.

You know, and what you were saying, Steve, about making a difference in people’s lives. I [00:15:00] think if we can, you know, we can do that and, and promote this as a profession and the professionalism of operators, I think maybe that’s my channel, at least what I’m trying to do. You know, sometimes I feel like we’re the loyal engine that could but I do, I do see more and more of that happening at AWWA and WEF and some of the other conferences where people are trying or there is more of a focus today on the workforce and there ever has with new apprenticeship programs and those types of things, I think really do help.

I think, you know, one thing we’ve done is partner with Des Moines area Community College with their two year program. They get time in the seat and you know, and they get to go into an internship, got all this time, and when they graduate, they graduate with an AA and they’re also able to take our professional operator certification and get certified by WPI, by our professional operator program. And theoretically, well, not theoretically, they can actually take that and work here anywhere in the state of [00:16:00] Iowa or anywhere else where that uses our, you know, recognizes our PO program. So, you know, I think things like that where we can, if we can find partnerships, we can have an opportunity to you know, maybe grow this a little bit more.

And I mean, the last class that we just did an exam, I think we had 30 some people, you know, 30 people go through his class or so, so I mean, that’s, that is you know, that’s uplifting, inspiring, you know, kind of to have, to know those numbers. But we need to, you know, when you’re getting those, that many people starting to retire on a monthly or daily basis, you know, we need, we need twice that amount in the classrooms and we need to develop it.

There used to be more programs through the, through the community colleges, you know, and how that’s kind of dried up. I think we almost need to go back to that.

Cause if you think about the people that went through those programs and stuff are probably the ones retiring too.

Steve Wilson: Yeah. Well, when you talk about your professional operator program at WPI and it’s, it’s unique in that it’s a certification you provide sounds like [00:17:00] Iowa accepts it as a credential as well. But it was put together, I think, really to elevate the idea of an operator, and it was put together by a lot of state certification officers who were part of WPI in the first place.

And so it’s kind of a great model in that respect of a cooperative approach to coming up with a set of criteria for an operator that, you know, a number of folks can agree to. And I think, you know, that leads where I think we need ahead cuz of the issues with the states and that, you know, our next question was About that and the retention issues and why.

If you’re certified in a state, most states have their own programs, their own approaches, their own rules, and they don’t allow reciprocity between states. And so that really becomes an issue. If someone wants to move you know, people, maybe their spouse gets a job in another state.

They may have been a great operator, but they decide to give up the whole profession because they don’t wanna go through it again in another state, but they’re following their spouse to a, a really good job somewhere else or whatever. What are some things we can do there [00:18:00] to address that kind of issue?

Paul Bishop: That was the one thing, Steve, I, if you remember back when I first started 15 years ago and by the way, you’ve been part of that journey. Poor guy.

Jennifer Wilson: That’s how long we’ve been married too, so.

Paul Bishop: My answer to that, well, if you remember back in the day when that 15 years ago, I was always amazed and I had that slide, that patch quote slide of the US and it’s like 50 different ways of doing the same thing, you know, and how do we do that? And that visual to me still, I, I, I think we could put that up and make it a flag for operator certification, unfortunately. And, and it’s not something we really should be proud of, but it is the way we are. I think, you know, our professional operator program, you’re right Steve and I appreciate you talking about the foundation, cuz it was, we’re, you know, we’re proud of saying it was created by operators, for operators with OpCert people in there and it was, it was designed to meet and or exceed every state program.

So [00:19:00] we really did meet, try to create something that everyone could agree on the, and the core focus of that probably being the standardized exam. You know, we build that and we’re in the process of doing new ones right now as we speak. We’re, we’ve got surveys out for water wastewater distribution and collection.

And we hope to be coming out with new standardized exams by the end of this year, the first part of next year, more likely. And that was postponed a little bit because the pandemic, but to me, the standardization, the exam helps creating model standards like we have as an industry helps, you know, for, for certification programs and requirements.

The irony is, you know, we, we look at it is all one water. It all is tied in together. I don’t know of another system that is as bifurcated or, you know, as in dissected as this one is. You know, the water industry, you don’t see this. I mean, I always kid the massage therapists have national certification, but, [00:20:00] but we don’t. I mean, so how is that? So looking at interstate compacts maybe, or regional reciprocity and letting go of the, kind of trying to let go of the my state does it better than your state mentality. I think we have to let go of a little territorial piece of that.

And sometimes I think that’s embedded in the system. One of the other things that I’ve been talking about lately is we don’t have an advocate in the federal government. Gas and electricity the energy department is, you know, is kind of an advocate for some of those.

The EPA is, you know, is a regulatory, they’re not an advocate. Their job is to be an enforcer, to be compliance driven and not be an advocate. And so that’s, that’s one thing I think we need to kind of look at how we find advocates within the federal government or create advocates to ensure that.

I also think one of the things we also need to do is look at training and, you know, how do we, how do we train our operators better? Ensuring [00:21:00] that maybe there’s more more standardization even within our training of operators because the information is out there. We’ve got great resources from the Sacramento books to AWWA, WEF, Standard Methods, you know, all those and you know, again, what we’re, what we’re seeing from community colleges and training programs, the information’s out there.

It’s how are operator’s getting it and what’s happening, you know, in that process. And I think will help. Will help some of this, hopefully us get over this hurdle of my state better than your state, and maybe someday get to where there’s more standardization and reciprocity because you’re right, it is a barrier.

Steve Wilson: There’s so many advantages. You know, you think about nurses that can travel to other states where there’s a shortage in an area, or after the hurricanes last year when some operators from other states went down south and they weren’t allowed to even work on systems because they don’t have a license in that state.

You know, I think they had to get some emergency authorization or whatever to let them participate. [00:22:00] But it would solve so many of those issues if we eventually got to the point where we had a national accreditation for licensed operators for sure.

Paul Bishop: I agree with that. I mean, one of the things I’ve looked at in the model actually, that you’re kind of talking about with nursing is that actually nurses get, receive their RNs or their, you know, their endorsements EMTs to some extent their, that’s another industry that has some issues.

But, you know, one of the things that we’ve been, or I’ve kind of talked about over the years is looking at certification and licensure as, as part of this industry and looking, because really states are in the business of licensing. Certification has always been mostly in the realm of industry driven or, you know, third party.

And with the water industry, we’ve kind of put it under states. And the problem is certification moves so much faster than states are able to. You know, tech changes in technology, changes in, you know, all of that. And so exams have to move and [00:23:00] need to know. And so, you know, when you look at a system, and again, and there’s a revenue component and a, and a authority compliance component.

And where I look at a good model is if, if, you know, if you were to take certification out of the state realm per se, so that there is, whether it be WPI or whoever and to certify, you know, operators, they go through that whole thing, but then the states have a licensure component so that they still have the autonomy, the authority, the compliance issues, you know, things are covered.

But also it really is a two-pronged approach to ensuring, you know, if, if, if an operator does something or goes against their code of conduct, perhaps we revoke their certification. That gives the state ammunition to either do that or vice versa. You know, it gives the state, okay, do you have the certification?

Okay, here’s our licensure exam, or here’s our licensure requirements. You know, to me that’s a, it’s a really, when you’ve seen that, [00:24:00] again, nursing is one of those licensers, you know, you can see this again with probably, you know, law. It’s physician medicine even, you know, sometimes accounting PEs have licensure, but you know that they wanna work in different states, they’ve gotta work, you know?

So to me, you’ve got, we’ve got a, we’ve got a potential to create a system that is two pronged. I don’t know if it’ll happen in our lifetimes, but I do think it’s out there. It’s just whether or not people are willing to kind of let go a little. And understand it’s not about, to me, it’s kind of a win-win.

It’s not about, I’m not looking for WPI to take over the world of the world of certification. What I’m trying to do is say, here’s what we do, which is great at certifying, what you guys do is licensure. You know, let us maintain the, the credential. You maintain the license.

Steve Wilson: I think this is an opportunistic time because I think about teachers and because of the pandemic, such a loss of teachers, which I, [00:25:00] obviously your wife’s a teacher, so you’re very aware. Illinois has decided to allow the online certification program in Florida to be accepted in Illinois for certification for teachers.

And so now teachers in Illinois who want to teach in Illinois can go through Florida’s program. And become certified in Illinois. And that’s only because there’s such a need they can’t fill. And I see as we run into more and more shortage of operators I think that’s gonna open a door for something like you’ve just explained and, you know, we just need to be ready for.

Paul Bishop: Yep. No, I, I agree wholeheartedly. I, I, I had not heard that about the teachers and cuz you’re right. Being married to a third grade teacher, I’m always fond of saying I’m married, a woman who understood my emotional needs. The teaching profession has come under a lot of fire lately, but it’s also, it, it is hard.

I think what it comes down to, we’ve all been in a classroom and we all, maybe a lot of people think they know what it means to be a teacher and it, you know, but in today’s world it has changed and they really don’t.[00:26:00]

And that’s the problem. There is so much that goes into… my wife, my wife routinely puts in 60 to 80 hour weeks beyond the classroom. You know, just because that’s what’s required to get the job done for the 25, 26 students she has. And so, but the same can be said for our operators and our, you know, and the things and the training things that we’re dealing with and the certification issues and, and again, being able to look at some of that online stuff.

You know, the, definitely the pandemic, I mean, the pandemic changed our industry forever. You’re right.

Jennifer Wilson: Yeah, that’s definitely our next question here. Is it kind of, that was a whole nother door floodgate that was opened to even more online training and there’s a lot of strengths and weaknesses to it. We’ve talked a lot, the three of us and beyond, including at your conferences about getting online training approved in multiple states.

Now, many training providers don’t need to do that, but there are some of us that [00:27:00] do, and it’s quite a challenge. So what, what do we need to, to work with this new normal where more training rather than less is gonna be part of it. We’re gonna be online, we’re gonna be on Zoom, you know, it’s just part of our lives now.

Paul Bishop: I, I couldn’t, couldn’t have said that better, Jennifer. And I agree. You know, that was, that is one of the things, the pandemic, and it shifted our, our model, you know, from paper and up to more computer-based testing. And we, you know, and a lot of our people saying, are you guys gonna approve online courses?

And that type of thing. And so we, you know, for the PO and our WPI certification, we had to shift as well. I, I’ve been a big proponent. I know that it was a hard thing for states to adopt. A pandemic expedited that. And I think, but in a good way. And I think because, you know, it’s amazing how you’re right.

Through Zoom and through all these things we can put in, there’s so many things now, you can put in place to ensure people [00:28:00] are paying attention, to do check-ins every five to 10 minutes. Create small interactive things so that people are having to participate and that there are systems in place, you know, to ensure connectivity through the whole process. Yet at some point too, I also think that we have to look at, I think we have to look, or at least our, our certification entities, and I challenge, I try to challenge them on this at looking at, you know, what these men and women who are in this profession, you want to treat ’em like professionals at some point if they’re gonna take continuing education .

People will cheat or people won’t do it. But if we are recruiting the people that we want to recruit and we’re giving them, we’re empowering them in ways that they should be to make change and do that. Continuing education is something they’re gonna want, you know, they’re gonna actually drive for. I know that I think I could probably speak for you two.

I enjoy going [00:29:00] to some of these conferences cuz I do. I want that professional development. I wanna learn and I think operators aren’t that different if there. If they see value in it. Part of what, you know, when you talk about this new normal, you know, we, as I mentioned earlier, we have the information.

I mean, we’ve got great manuals, we’ve got people putting out some good stuff.

You know where my thinking is now on this in termsof this training is creating standards within training. I, I see it not now as the information is out there and we can get it three ways to Sunday, you know, live, taped, video and, in person, all these things.

To me where I’m, where I’m wanting to kind of focus our energies is making sure that those who are delivering that are the best they can be. Like they understand adult learning and that they’re held almost to the same standard as our operators. So kind of exploring what that means because there are a lot of people out there that train that maybe should or shouldn’t be.

[00:30:00] And I kind of wanna see what is it that WPI can do? We’ve, we’ve done a lot over the last 15 years to shore up what I could say, the backend of certification, i.e. the certification, the need to know, those processes in terms of ensuring that, hey, the measurement of an operator’s competence is good.

Our standardized exams are good. They’re tough, but they’re good and they’re only getting better. With the new things that we’re doing and the new the certification standards we’re, we’re, we’re using, but really where I see as, you know, what I’ve noticed this year with passing scores, dropping and and such is that it comes down to how is that information being delivered and given and getting access to it.

And I also think that means calling on utilities to invest in their people as well. You know, Alan Cranford past chair, he’s in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Great story. His people get together and they do you know, they’ll do training sessions together, you know, they will break up the book, he’ll put the books on the table.

He [00:31:00] said, Hmm. He noticed the books hadn’t moved in a week or so, and he called ’em out, you know, as they’re getting ready for certification exams. So he is like, guys, that book is not gonna, you know, you’re not gonna learn that through osmosis, you know, so, you know, he gotta crack ’em open. And he really has instilled in his people that, you know, you’ve gotta read, you’ve got to put yourself out there. But I think I’m fond of saying every question on our exam is referenced. You know, it has a page, chapter, page where are people, they don’t just pull this stuff out. And so it is imperative that operators understand there is a continual need for and education, but it’s also imperative, I think that our trainers and people in there educating them, know the diversity of the field that they have.

And again, you know, Steve, to our earlier comments about being hands on and then everything from that to math, biology, chemistry, and how all that factors in. And then there’s also the human component, you know, that relational EQ component that they kind of need.

Jennifer Wilson: We were talking before about kind of, trying to reinvigorate the community college environment [00:32:00] and cuz you know, a lot of what we’ve been discussing here is more about the continuing education component. That’s the, the training we’re seeing online. It’s easy to access, easy to, you know, relatively easy to teach.

But with the lack of those foundational programs across the country that are getting someone ready, you know, they’re having their, their experience and they’re relying on perhaps less engaging materials like manuals to learn.

Paul Bishop: True.

Jennifer Wilson: And so, you know, how do you get that fundamental education in a dynamic, interactive way that’s accessible to everyone?

Paul Bishop: I think honestly, I think we as an industry have to come together on that and say, okay, there, there are ways, there are things we need to look at. We, we need to embrace the online. We need to embrace every modality we can. But I think, and I think utilities and communities though, really need to embrace that.

I think you know, that component, I’m always fond of saying that certification is a journey in the life of an operator, it is not a destination. I mean, some may look at it as a hurdle and I’m saying [00:33:00] no. Again, this is where, look at it as, wow, I’m a certified operator. You know what I had to do to do that?

I had to spend countless hours. You know, I, I know how to do x, y, and z pumps. I, I do hard math, you know, I’m doing new math and I you know, these are the things that I have to do to know my job and to honestly be able to look in the mirror at the end of that and say, I haven’t done a good job. I am, this is, I should be very proud of where I am at.

And, you know, all too often that’s not the story. I, I believe wholeheartedly that anyone who goes and takes sits for one of our exams and does this. And, you know, we do, we deliver over 40,000 exams a year. And, you know, it’s not, it is not for the faint of heart, but it, so it should be something that’s valued.

And I, I think that starts with us pushing it out through our, through our communities, through our utilities, through the management systems, to also understand that they need to invest in these people. [00:34:00] And I think, again, to me that’s, that’s it. I’m hopeful the infrastructure stuff, you know, funding will, will help us.

Steve Wilson: For sure.

Paul Bishop: I’m hopeful that we can use some of that money for this side of the industry. Part of that infrastructure to me includes operators and operator training, professionalism.

Jennifer Wilson: If you don’t have people to to run all this new infrastructure, particularly since, if it’s new, it means, it means it’s maybe more complicated, more technology, new things. You have to be able to have people to run it, otherwise it’s not gonna work.

Paul Bishop: Yeah. A hundred million billion dollar plants aren’t gonna run themselves. And, you know, operators need to be involved every step of the way from from design to implementation to the final operating part piece of it. And they’re they’re more than one story of plants being built without operator input and not being able to work properly and they are just as important as the architects, the [00:35:00] PEs and, and everyone else involved in the process. And I, I just at one point I know the profession was really, was highly regarded and I don’t know at what point it didn’t, but I think it’s also very easy for us as a society, you know, our water systems are behind walls.

And so we kind of put ’em out of our mind. And, but I do think, see when you talked about you know, we are seeing stuff with climate change and disaster. You know, our water systems are affected out more than ever and we need these people to be well trained. And again, I always say that our certification exams won’t train, you know, they’ll ensure we know that they know what they’re doing every day. But honestly, it tests their analytical skills and ability to do that. And to me it’s when you know when everything hits the fan. It’s, can these operators make the decisions because it’s not in a book.

You know, can they make the decisions to save the day or go to and, you know, and fix things that they’re not gonna find in any, [00:36:00] you know, in any manual, but can they make the rational, analytical decisions to fix what’s happening?

Steve Wilson: We actually have an operator school like that. It’s all hands on. It’s it’s nine months. They come four days a week. By the second semester. On the day that they’re not there, they’ll mess with the plant and then have the students come in and try to figure out what’s wrong with it. And it’s all, it’s really cool.

40,000 gallon a day plant in southern Illinois. They train about 25 operators a year. It’s a great model. It’s the only one I know of.

Paul Bishop: I did not know that. I’ll need to visit that. That’s great. So is that through the university then?

Steve Wilson: It’s through Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and it, the plant was built with a federal grant in 1980. And they’ve been training operators ever since. And when they’re done, they get 10 weeks of they also do 10 weeks of internship, five at water plant, five at wastewater plant, and at the end of all of that, so after the end of one year, they’re ready to take the Illinois class three Water and Class D wastewater Exam and Missouri. [00:37:00] And so it’s really yeah, it’s a really good, it’s a good model. We don’t see very, it’s like I said, I know, like that, where it’s actually all hands-on and

Paul Bishop: Are you the ones teaching that? Are you part

Steve Wilson: no. We’re at the,

Paul Bishop: I didn’t know, but are you?

Steve Wilson: Yeah, no, we, we work with them sometimes it’s called ERTC, the Environmental Resources Training Center.

Paul Bishop: Based on that, those operators would also qualify for our PO possibly with that amount of time in the seat and that training, they would actually qualify.

Steve Wilson: Before we end today, I wanted to kind of switch gears at the end, you know,, which we manage is really geared towards systems under 10,000 people.

One of the things we see is that small systems end up hiring an operator. They work three to five years there. They get their experience so they can take a better exam and move up in class and they’re quickly hired by a large utility that can offer them better benefits, more money, retirement plans, all that stuff.

And these small systems end up starting over every three to five years with a new person, maybe a kid just outta high [00:38:00] school. All that sort of thing. You know, it’s, it’s really been an issue for us. These small systems are kind of the minor leagues for the large utilities.

And my take on that is that the large utilities should be supporting those small ones where they’re taking their operators. But that’s just my own opinion. And so, do you have any ideas or suggestions? How can we support these small systems that want to maintain their autonomy and get them out of this endless loop?

Paul Bishop: Preparing for this I wrote down some notes and it’s funny that you literally just encapsulated one of the things I wrote. I literally wrote we need to create win-win situations with small to large communities, along with small to larger systems.

And I think, you know, your analogy is really good with minor leagues because here in, in Iowa we have the Iowa Cubs, we have the Cubs farm team. You know, lucky Cubs go from Chicago to Des Moines. Not sure if that’s, you know, but they also have, you know, training camps. So the Iowa Cubs are here in Des Moines. Actually, James on my [00:39:00] team is the official scorer, so it’s kind of a cool thing. I know it really is. It’s really neat to hear how he does things. So, you know, we give him time during during baseball season to leave and go during day games and stuff, and it’s, it’s awesome. But, but, but the use, you’re right about the minor leagues and, you know, the Iowa Cubs here have flourished. And why have they flourished? Because the community is invested in them. They get recognition. And honestly, we’ve invested in the Iowa Cubs, like there is a big following. And so I kind of, I think that same model, we really need to, you know, those small town people who take it, you’re right. I don’t think for the most part they wanna leave, but if they want to get recognition.

If they want to feel valued and wanna have pay, then they need, they have to go somewhere else. I, I think it’s incumbent, I, I think the only way to do this is through what you said. I think it’s small systems[00:40:00] and larger systems partnering, you know, creating win-win situations for coverage. So that small town operator can maybe work in the large plant but, or get coverage so they can go on vacation.

Understanding in their communities how valuable they are. And honestly, it starts with saying, you know, we pay $500 a month, or, you know, three to $500 a month for our cell phones and other crazy things in our lives, but water we bark at, you know, a few cents being raised here or there. And so, I think really it is looking at that value of water.

You know, I know it’s some, it’s a staple right now, that value of water mantra, but they all feed into one another. Small systems feed into large systems that feed back into those small systems. So I do think we need to talk. You know, I, I do think, you know, they say sometimes, the water operators, the mayors, you know, could be the mayor or the dog catcher and the public works, and that’s true.

But then why are we not recognizing for that incredible value? And I think honestly, taking time, if [00:41:00] communities took time to just even say thank you, but to show value in that, and then to create opportunities, because you’re right, it does create some heavy lifting at first. But I think long term, those, those men and women who work in their small communities would like to stay.

Again, going back to our early point of view, they are there. Maybe they took the job at first because it was the only thing available, but often you find, especially with veterans, they may, they would go home, they wanna be, you know, they, they may wanna go back to their hometown. This is a place for them to raise their family.

Our jobs are unique and, and especially I think for veterans play well to the, to people who’ve, who have been in service to the country. So I, I do think if we can. Those large systems and utilities to give back and vice versa. Because really, you know, when I look at how the I Cubs do it is the big Cubs investing back into it and, and then our community here embraces them.

We need to do the same for our operators. I think embrace ’em, [00:42:00] show, tell them what they’re worth, tell ’em that they’re valued. Sometimes a lot of time it’s as simple as that. But I think also send them to a conference. Create professional growth, create opportunity. You know, sending an operator to Chicago or Toronto this year for a major conference may cost a thousand to $1,500, but wow, what they’re gonna get back in terms of loyalty and professional development, I think is tenfold.

Jennifer Wilson: Paul, thank you for spending time with us today. Are you on social media in a professional capacity where you’d invite our listeners to follow you?

Paul Bishop: We are. We have an Instagram that is @Go_WPI. If you go to we have a new blog. We just started that this fall, so we’re trying to get some traction on that. You know, Facebook, we’re at Water Professionals International and then Twitter we’ve got @Go_WPI.

So again, those are the places we are. We’d invite people to be a part of that and be a part of our journey and help us. Our industry is better because of the work you two do and getting [00:43:00] the word out.

So thank you.

Steve Wilson: Well thanks.