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Wastewater plant engineers enjoy a steady career with a higher than average pay rate. The job is also ideal for those who like to solve complex problems and work both in planning stages and in the field.

Job: Wastewater plant engineer

Role: Wastewater plant engineers plan and design wastewater infrastructure as well as oversee wastewater collection and disposal. The job also requires ongoing risk assessment and health and safety training.

"Within their role they're doing everything from looking at client needs, doing the design studies – including all equipment requirements, layout requirements, cost projections – so they're full-scale project managers with really solid technical insight," said Michael Kerford, the president and CEO of Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada.

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The day-to-day role of a wastewater plant engineer will vary depending on the size and scale of the plant they work in, which is determined by the population it serves. Class 1 plants, for example, serve small municipalities, while Class 4 wastewater plants are only found in major urban centres. Higher classes are associated with increased complexity, operational logistics and technical sophistication, as well as employee specialization.

"In some places, small systems in Class 1, you'll actually have an engineer who has oversight for multiple jurisdictions, so they'll travel around and provide oversight," Mr. Kerford said. "As you move into the larger facilities, Classes 3 and 4, there's going to be a multitude of individuals who are performing this role, and they'll have specific responsibilities around a technical area."

Education: In order to become a wastewater plant engineer, one must first graduate from an accredited engineering program at a post-secondary institution. Much like the legal and accounting industries, engineers must also acquire a license through a provincial oversight authority in order to maintain their Professional Engineer designation.

"There are requirements within P. Eng for ongoing professional development," Mr. Kerford said. "More than likely these are individuals who are getting continuing education credits relating to their field, but that's at their discretion and the discretion of the regulatory bodies."

Salary: The salary of a wastewater plant engineer will depend on their level of experience, and the size of the plant that they oversee. According to a 2014 study by ECO Canada, the average entry-level position provides a starting salary of $40,275 per year. After five years of experience, the salary of a wastewater plant engineer in Canada reaches an average of $86,813 annually.

"Higher-end salaries are over six figures, up to $125,000," Mr. Kerford said. "That would be somebody who is in more of a management role of a Class 4 facility."

Job prospects: With 18 per cent of the industry, or approximately 15,120 wastewater engineers, over the age of 55 in 2011, according to a study by ECO Canada, there is an immediate need across the country to replace retirees. Research conducted by ECO Canada has also found that 59 per cent of employers have vacant positions, or are forecasting vacancies in the near future.

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Challenges: Some of the challenges wastewater plant engineers face on the job includes dealing with a multitude of stakeholders and a bureaucratic regulatory system, as well as unpredictable work schedules.

"With the multiple layers of government that they're often working with, approval processes and coordination of projects can be a challenge," Mr. Kerford said.

Why they do it: Wastewater plant engineers enjoy a steady career with a higher than average pay rate. The job is also ideal for those who like to solve complex problems and work both in planning stages and in the field.

Mr. Kerford also stresses that wastewater plant engineers are vital to the growth and success of cities and towns across the country, and that individuals and municipalities alike are increasingly recognizing the important role that wastewater management facilities and engineers play.

"It's becoming a much more important function as we look at the criticality of water on a global scale, and the efficiency required of these plants to keep people safe and to manage water appropriately, considering the scarcity of water that more and more people are recognizing," he said.

Misconceptions: Dealing with wastewater is often perceived as a dirty job, but Mr. Kerford said many wastewater plant engineers are spared from unpleasant smells for a majority of their careers, depending on their work environment.

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"If you're just doing planning and oversight you're probably not getting your hands dirty, so to speak, but at some point you may have to encounter some odour," he said.

Give us the scoop: Are you a Wastewater plant engineer? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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