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Posted on: August 8, 2022

Town expands workforce with on-the-job classroom

Michael Ratley-L and Ilona Williams-R Operating Aeration Tank

The Town of Clayton has welcomed two apprentices to its Water Resources Department, Michael Ratley and Ilona Williams, thanks to a program through the North Carolina Rural Water Association (NCRWA).

The two-year training program provides the education and experience necessary to work and thrive in the wastewater industry. Through classroom instruction and on-the-job training, both Ratley and Williams will emerge with a solid and secure career as either water or wastewater operations specialists.    

"We are proud to play this introductory role in Ratley and Williams' wastewater industry careers,” said Water Resources Director Byron Poelman. “Programs like these help us to recruit and develop a highly-skilled workforce. We look forward to working together to expand their knowledge and skills during this apprenticeship.” 

Advancements in water and wastewater treatment and supply technology have amplified the skill and knowledge required of water resource professionals. These professionals are responsible for upholding operational standards, replacing aging infrastructure, recruiting, training staff, and responding to and recovering from disasters.   

Michael RatleyCarolyn Bynum, a Workforce Development Coordinator with the NCRWA, will be working closely with Ratley and Williams over the course of the apprenticeship. She will be providing them with classroom training, tracking their progress, as well as working with their individual mentors to ensure their success. 

“Thousands of water industry operators are expected to retire over the next five to ten years, leading to a huge gap to fill these positions,” said Bynum. “Through the NCRWA Apprenticeship Program, apprentices gain knowledge from industry professionals who have extensive experience in the industry to train apprentices in technical knowledge on the job. Our goal is to raise the level of professionalism in the industry and produce highly effective operators and employees.” 

Ratley and Williams will each receive 288 hours of classroom instruction and 4,000 hours of on-the-job training. 

According to Water Reclamation Superintendent Bill Simpson, this is the first year the Town has participated in the program.  

“The curriculum offers a broad view of the water resources industry,” said Simpson. “It serves as a great inlet for eager, career driven employees to familiarize themselves with all aspects of water and wastewater treatment.” 

According to Ratley, the opportunity to learn new skills, provide people with an essential service, and embark on a secure promising career is what appealed to him most about the apprenticeship.  

“Growing up in a small, rural farming community, I have always worked with my hands and seen the toils of my labor come to fruition. After working in the corporate world for the last 12 years, I was ready to try something different,” said Ratley.  

Ratley is a 2006 graduate of the University of Mount Olive where he majored in agricultural business. His previous career experience includes the food industry and customer service. A friend of Ratley’s, who works as a wastewater specialist, inspired him to apply for the apprenticeship. After learning more about it, he said he felt it was a worthwhile opportunity.  

Salvador Valdiviezo, Water Resources Operator for the Town, serves as Ratley’s mentor. Ratley said he looks forward to utilizing what he learns from Valdiviezo to establish a solid professional foundation to build his future. 

He added that he appreciates the kindness that has been shown to him by his mentor, co-workers, and the Town of Clayton. 

“Every employee I have met has shown me kindness and friendship. It is a small-town charm that I have most appreciated,” said Ratley. “I wake up each day ready to go to work.”  

Ilona WilliamsWilliams, who holds an associate degree in applied science with a focus in environmental science technology from Pamlico Community College, said she was attracted to the apprenticeship program because of its secure career advancement opportunity.  

“I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get my foot in the door for working in the environmental field,” said Williams. “I am very interested in water conservation and how our water treatment system works.” 

She added that she is looking forward to working with her mentor Chad Wallace, Water Resources Operator for the Town, and learning more about how wastewater systems and operations function in the Town’s facilities.  

North Carolina is one of thirty-four states with a National Rural Water Association (NWRA)-affiliated apprenticeship program. The Town of Clayton is one of seven municipal water systems participating in the apprenticeship program in the state. The program is open to individuals 18 and above, with a high school diploma or GED. For more information on the program visit www.ncrwa.org.

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