Member Spotlight

Hampton Roads' "Secret Sauce:" The HRSD Apprenticeship Program

HRSD Apprenticeship Program
Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) created the nation’s first wastewater sector apprenticeship program in 1979 to support continued workforce excellence, and today the program is touted as a progressive initiative, fostering workforce development and furthering the growth of the clean water sector.  As a testament to HRSD’s innovation and leadership, the agency has received numerous commendations, and outstanding placements in competitions for many years.  Yet HRSD Commissioners and senior management staff credit its apprentices and support teams for making HRSD what it is today, frequently referring to the program as “HRSD’s Secret Sauce.”  Here’s why:

HRSD’s Wastewater Apprenticeship Program is a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction that can be completed in either three or four years.  HRSD believes that the combination of targeted classroom learning and hands-on experience is a proven recipe for success.  Over 500 apprentices have graduated from the program and many have had successful careers. On average, thirteen apprentices graduate per year with a program retention of over 90%.  Currently, apprentices or former apprentices make up 35% of HRSDs workforce and over one-third of HRSD leaders were former apprentices.

HRSD believes that their competency-based programming approach centered on sector and licensing standards will continue to provide skilled professional staff, boost retention, reduce operating costs and improve productivity to help HRSD realize its vision… future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean.

HRSD will celebrate the Apprenticeship Program’s 40th Anniversary in 2019.  In 2018, the program was awarded with a NACWA National Environmental Achievement Award.


ABOUT THE PROGRAM

HRSD’s custom-designed program offers tuition-free apprenticeships in eight individual occupations to qualified men and women, allowing them to gain education and experience necessary for success within the wastewater field. The Program is recognized and/or approved by the Virginia Departments of Education and Labor, the US Department of Labor and Industry, and the Virginia Department of Professional & Occupational Regulation and is administered under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Labor.  

Apprenticeships currently exist in the following trades:

  • Plant Operator
  • Maintenance Operator
  • Small Communities System Operator
  • Interceptor Technician
  • Electrical & Instrumentation (E&I) Specialist
  • Machinist
  • Carpenter
  • Automotive Technician

Candidates for HRSD’s Apprenticeship Program must be hired into one of the apprenticeship positions, be 18 years old, have a high school or vocational school diploma or GED, be able to perform essential functions of the position and must successfully complete skills testing applicable to the position for which they have applied. Electrical and Instrumentation Specialists must have or be pursuing an Associate’s of Applied Science in Instrumentation Technology, Electro-mechanical, Mechatronics, Electronics or related field.

All Apprentices are required to sign an Apprenticeship agreement with HRSD, approved by and registered with the Virginia Apprenticeship Council.  The agreement covers the terms and conditions of employment and training, a statement of the trade and schedules and requirements for instruction in relevant subjects.  All apprentices receive an Apprenticeship manual and are held individually responsible for adhering to policies and procedures such as the honor code, attendance, grading, academic standing, on-the-job training, trade transfers and apprenticeship standards.

Over the course of the program, apprentices work a regular work schedule and demonstrate the required skills for their trade.  For the academic portion, students attend classes either at a vocational school, college or HRSD, dependent upon the position and its required coursework.

In addition to paid-on the job training and free class room training, apprentices are provided textbooks, mileage reimbursement, training increases and tutoring.  Since the program is recognized by the Virginia Department of Veteran Services, Veterans Administration benefits are available to qualified participants.

Upon completion of the program, apprentices attend a formal graduation ceremony, are awarded a State certificate of Completion, a Journeyperson card and an Apprenticeship School Ring.

The program is a vital part of HRSDs success and therefore leadership continues to support program improvements to ensure continued success. Over the past five years, the following improvements were made:

  • Updated 90% of curriculums
  • Added a three-year completion option
  • Incorporated distance learning and online technologies
  • Retrofitted three new shops
  • Changed on-the-job training from hours-based to skills-based
  • Established a math refresher program
  • Combined Electrical and Instrumentation trades

 HRSD believes that their competency-based programming approach centered on the sector and licensing standards will continue to provide skilled professional staff, boost retention, reduce operating costs and improve productivity to help HRSD realize its vision… future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean.

HRSD will celebrate the Apprenticeship Program’s 40th Anniversary in 2019.  In 2018, the program was awarded with a NACWA National Environmental Achievement Award.