JeffCo Seeks People With the Right Stuff for Wastewater Apprentices

Michelle C. Rodrigues, Jefferson County’s director of human resources. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The deadline to apply to be a water reclamation facility operator apprentice has been extended to Friday. Already 90 persons have tossed their hats in the ring for 20 positions.

Michelle C. Rodrigues, Jefferson County’s director of human resources, told commissioners at their committee meeting this morning that positions as water reclamation facility operators have been difficult to recruit. As a result, the county is developing its own pipeline of workers through its apprenticeship program.

“We also have an internship program that commenced (Monday) for summer interns,” Rodrigues said. “We went to local high schools and offered a tour and presentation on the opportunity. We had seven applicants and six were accepted.”

The HR director acknowledged that 90 applicants for 20 apprentice positions is a high number. “But we want people in the community to be excited about this opportunity and have a chance to compete,” she said. “It’s actually a very good number.”

Water reclamation facility operators previously were known as wastewater treatment plant operators. The change in labeling is part of the rebranding of a position that has a messy reputation.

“It’s actually a clean environment in general,” Rodrigues said. “That’s why we decided to do the realistic job preview. Because of the stigma attached with that, we’ve rebranded it water reclamation facility operator because it really is a clean environment.”

The internship and apprenticeship programs address an aging workforce in water treatment.

“What we’re facing is many of the employees in the water reclamation facility operator position are retirement ready or will be eligible for retirement within the next five years,” she said. “We are working to grow our own talent and provide opportunities for Jefferson County citizens.”

In another job-related item, commissioners moved to Thursday’s commission agenda a resolution that would pay $700,000 for a supportive services agreement between Dannon Project and Jefferson County on behalf of the Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment for program participants with barriers to training.

“Basically, you come into the program and you’re able to receive the training services but you can’t afford your uniform or you can’t afford transportation costs or you can’t go to training because you can’t get somebody to keep your children,” said Dr. Frederick Hamilton, director of Community Services and Workforce Development. “If you meet eligibility for that, this contract will assist with those expenses.”

Other Issues

Commissioners also asked about surplus vehicles – 2003 and 2005 Ford Crown Victorias and a 2005 Chevrolet Impala – being donated to Brighton, a financially distressed city. Brighton previously received a similar donation from the county.

“The county has a policy to designate equipment as surplus,” said Cal Markert, a deputy county manager. “The commission has to vote on it. It’s based on the number of miles or hours on the equipment. Or sometimes you might have a lemon; it’s fairly new but we’re sinking more money into it than it’s worth.

“We designate as surplus typically the very oldest stuff,” Markert continued. “From time to time, especially with police vehicles, the sheriff may have a police vehicle that may have 150,000, 200,000 miles on it and the resale value is low. The commission would choose to transfer that to a municipality.”

The deputy county manager acknowledged Fairfield’s request for a flatbed truck or the like from surplus inventory. “As far as I know, we don’t have that available now,” he said.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens questioned a resolution to pay CMH Architects as much as $250,000 for elevator modernization at the Bessemer Courthouse and Bessemer Courthouse Annex. He said he was being frugal and wanted to be sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

“I asked if the contract was bid,” Stephens said. “I was told no. I reiterated the contract amount. I was wondering if it would have been better had we bid it and given them the opportunity to have competition.

“I made my point and I believe we want them to be a little more attuned to the needs of the citizens,” he continued, “and to understand that it is a limited number of dollars that we have available for these projects.”

Commissioners also heard six zoning cases, including two in McCalla. One addressed changing zoning to allow a gas station at 5619 Eastern Valley Road, the other to allow an additional 41 lots in a residential subdivision in McCalla Trace.

The separate matters again highlight the energy that is evident in McCalla.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing areas in the county right now,” said Stephens, whose district includes the unincorporated area. “There’s over 11,000 people that reside in that particular area.

“It’s close to everything but you still have that country atmosphere,” the commission president continued. “It’s growing (with) subdivisions, a new elementary school. Commerce at Exit 1 of (Interstate) 459 is doing great. We’re proud that they’re being successful in what they’re doing. We’re fortunate and glad to be able to participate.”