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Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater Treatment

Water & Wastewater
Ops Challenge

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater Treatment

The Operations Challenge, or otherwise known as the Ops Challenge, is the water sector’s best professional development program wrapped up in a competition. This event is where skilled professionals get to compete in a series of timed events that simulate real-world challenges faced in the operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentThis competition not only highlights the critical role of efficient and environmentally responsible wastewater management, but it fosters camaraderie between industry professionals and promotes best practices within the water sector. Five events make up the Ops Challenge; Collections Systems, Laboratory, Vaughan Maintenance, Process Control, and Safety.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentThe first national competition at what is now WEFTEC took place in 1988 in Dallas, TX. The last few years of the Ops Challenge has seen unprecedented growth, with WEFTEC 2024 being no different in anticipating the largest event ever again this year. “When there is a globally disruptive event like COVID, the first things to be eliminated from municipal budgets tend to be travel and training. Operations Challenge is both. We have seen such tremendous growth in the years immediately following the pandemic which proves that utilities see tremendous value in participating,” said Steve Harrison, Director of Operator Programs at WEF.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentThe competition has grown to three divisions of teams that include water professionals new to competing in Ops Challenge events and international teams that now come to compete. “It is often transformative for the teams visiting WEFTEC, but it benefits the US teams as well. Even our best operators often still work in anonymity and isolation. Having international teams participate reiterates that stewardship of water is a global responsibility that we all share,” says Harrison about the importance of taking the Ops Challenge to an International level.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentWater quality organizations around the world have replicated the Operations Challenge because they recognize that this skills competition is a training tool that engages operations personnel more effectively than any other program. “When global teams participate in Operations Challenge, we try to reciprocate by attending one of their events. The German Association for Water, Wastewater, and Waste (DWA) first sent teams to compete at WEFTEC in 2015, then we sent a team to compete at IFAT Munich in 2016,” says Harrison, and they have sent teams to compete at IFAT ever since which has developed enriching personal and professional relationships with many operators in Germany. WEF has also had the privilege of sending teams to Argentina, Colombia, and Denmark.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentThe ability to go overseas to train and compete is also an asset for competitors to learn about the different ways that operators do the job in other countries. At IFAT, they call their competition the World Water Skills and while similar to the Operations Challenge, it has different equipment, procedures, and units than what people are used to seeing at WEFTEC. This gives those traveling from other countries the opportunity to learn new skills but it also adds another layer of difficulty that those teams must overcome and adapt to a different way of doing things. The U.S. teams won the competition in 2016, and finished 2nd and 3rd in 2022. This showcases just how uniquely talented those teams are despite the unfamiliar circumstances.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentWith all the national and international events, sponsorship is paramount for these teams to be able to go and compete. “We are grateful for the support of sponsors that enable us to send teams to global competitions. When an international team competes at WEFTEC they often create a skills competition upon returning home that meets the needs of their members. Sponsor support creates an opportunity to reciprocate by having WEF teams travel to and participate in those events. This type of cross-cultural, peer-to-peer mentoring of operations personnel is invaluable to the water sector,” states Harrison.
Through our Empowering Pumps & Equipment brand, we are the information and connection hub for the industry and we have always put people at the forefront of everything we do by highlighting, amplifying, and supporting amazing industry professionals every day. Similarly, through our Empowering Women in Industry brand, we are not only connecting and collaborating with a community of people, we help women advance in their professions and are helping to build a future generation of women in leadership. When we first started investing in the Operations Challenge, it was with the sponsorship of the Charlie’s Angels team who were the first all-female team to compete at WEFTEC’s 2018 event.

Operations Challenge: Showcasing Excellence in Wastewater TreatmentThe last few years, we have been a sponsor of the Operations Event at WEFTEC and this year we are thrilled to be able to support two teams heading over to IFAT in May to compete. Both Empowering Pumps & Equipment and Empowering Women in Industry will be sponsoring a team to travel to Germany and participate in IFAT’s World Water Skills competition.

“It is truly an honor to sponsor these incredible leaders who represent four teams that compete in WEFTEC’s Ops Challenge who make the lives better for everyone they touch while also going to work every day in the water industry. Water is Life and these leaders and their teammates who help them succeed showcases that as we learn and level up together… we all win! I also have sent a special donation to help the full Controlled Chaos team because of the leadership of their coach. Troy has been a joy to work with and an encouragement to our Empowering Brands and Ops Challenge community. They have won so many times and to watch them cheer on the other teams as they compete made them stand a part and I know lead to their success,” says Charli K Matthews about what it means to her to be able to support these teams.

Qualifying events will be completed this summer and registration will begin after that. The Ops Challenge at WEFTEC 2024 is expected to have nearly 60 teams competing. We are looking forward to seeing the teams at IFAT next month and can’t wait until October to see them compete for a trophy!

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