|Virginia Offenders Train for Wastewater Treatment Jobs|
|By Virginia Department of Corrections|
Little more than two years ago, VA DOC created the Wastewater Apprenticeship Program, which allows offenders to reenter their communities with a professional license qualifying them as a treatment plant operator. There are four classifications, each with progressively more rigorous requirements.
Nottoway Treatment Plant Operator Robbie Jones
with a wastewater apprentice.
The program is the brainchild of Environmental Services Unit Director Tim Newton, who saw it as a way to facilitate the agency’s reentry efforts by preparing offenders for work opportunities in what has become something of a growth industry.
The growth has come in the form of regulations. “Every community, large or small, has wastewater treatment needs,” explained Nottoway Correctional Center Treatment Plant Operator Robbie Jones. There are many jobs available, and these jobs require increasingly stringent credentials.
“People don’t realize how much it takes. A lot of science and math goes into wastewater operation.”, Jones added. To train the offenders, VA DOC offers classroom and computer course work sanctioned by the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR).
Eleven apprentices have completed the year-long program, and ten have passed the Class 4 wastewater certification and received an operator’s license. One offender has advanced and earned a Class 3 certification, and at least one former offender now works at a wastewater treatment facility in his community.
To complete their apprenticeship, applicants must survive an interview panel, navigate a fact-finding conference, submit a variety of paperwork, and document their hours in the classroom and at work.
Apprentices learn about the many different types of wastewater facilities and array of problems that they might encounter. While much of the learning is the traditional combination of book study and on-the-job training, the apprentices also have access to computers, which, for security reasons, are standalone units without connections to the internet.
Offenders must apply and be accepted as apprentices. A high school diploma or GED is a prerequisite. “Many men are inspired by the program. They focus on earning their GED (while incarcerated) so they can qualify for the wastewater apprenticeship program,” Jones said.
Because the program is relatively new, few participants have completed the apprenticeship process.
The apprentices have all been deemed low security risks.
Violent and sexual offenders are not eligible for the program.
The apprenticeship program is offered at several prison sites in eastern and central Virginia. Soon, the program will expand to facilities in the western region.
The new program is quite popular, and part of the draw is the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment.
But the primary attraction is the promise of future opportunities. “With a professional license, these men have a much better chance of getting a job when they return to their community,” Jones said. “This is a catalyst, an incentive to get the GED and then get into the apprenticeship program. This gives them a goal, and when they get their professional license and get out, they can get a job.”
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