Monday, November 16, 2015

New Environmental Technology Program can get you Ready for a Job in Utilities

They’re on the frontlines of environmental protection. They use high tech equipment and biological processes to keep local rivers and streams clean. Most people haven’t considered working in water management, or other vital utilities, yet the industries need trained professionals. Volunteer State Community College has a pair of new certificate programs that can help anyone kick-start a career in the utilities, including many areas of environmental stewardship such as storm water runoff, wastewater management, and others. The program is called Environmental Technology.

“It gives your job purpose,” said Brandon Traughber, Chief Wastewater Operator for Gallatin Public Utilities. “You hear about the term environmentalist and you think of people hugging trees. But with this career you’re doing something directly to help the environment.”

Traughber, a Vol State graduate, is a good example of how utility professionals can build their education, grow their careers, and build their opportunities for advancement. “I took environmental science at Vol State and MTSU,” he said. “I got a part-time job in my senior year, working in the lab at the wastewater plant in Murfreesboro.” After several promotions, and new jobs, Traughber now supervises the treatment of an average of 6 million gallons of wastewater a day, although part of his skillset includes adjusting to much larger flows when conditions warrant. When you consider the health and environmental risks associated with that waste not being properly treated, an understanding of the importance of the position becomes clear.

Vol State has two Environmental Technology certificates. Each can be completed in a single semester. Students don’t need previous experience or college work. They do need a high school diploma or a high school equivalency diploma. The Environmental Technology certificates are also an attractive option for workers already in office positions at utilities, who would like to move up as they reinforce the fundamental skills of critical thinking and communication.

“You can’t just walk in off the street and know what it takes to work in the utilities. Our certificate program gives them the knowledge they will need when they are on the job,” said Phil Clifford, dean of Math and Science. “One certificate leads to the next. They build on each other. By the time students are done with both certificates, they’re half the way to an associate degree. Local utilities have agreed that our graduates will get one year of work experience credit for each certificate they complete. The best part is that students can study for the next step while already working in the field, in many cases.”

“There is often downtime at the plant, so you can do some studying and get ahead on your career,” Traughber said. “Someone who can use their head and think through problems will do well in utilities.”

Tennessee utility managers and supervisory leaders have been asking Vol State for this program to prepare candidates to fill job openings. It’s a field that is expanding as the population grows. There is expected to be a substantial increase in need in the next few years for people with environmental technology skills. Paid internships may be available for students who complete each certificate.

Students will need to begin their path with the Foundations of Environmental Technology certificate. Many of the classes have flexible formats, including evening and online options. Information about the program can be found at Classes begin on January 19 and students can start the process of applying to the college now at or call 615-230-3688.


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