Occupational Tasks and Technical Skills

The environmental field represents many diverse occupations. The Advanced Technology Environmental Education Center (ATEEC) (http://www.ateec.org/), a partner of HMTRI, is a national Center of Excellence funded by the National Science Foundation. ATEEC’s mission is the advancement of environmental technology education through curriculum development, professional development, and program improvement. In 2001, ATEEC published a report, Defining Environmental Technology in the New Millennium, that identified ten occupational categories and corresponding tasks in the environmental technology field. These occupational categories include:

  • Air Quality
  • Emergency Preparedness & Response
  • Energy
  • Information Management Systems
  • Waste Management
  • Safety & Health
  • Laboratory Services
  • Natural Resources Management
  • Site Management
  • Water and Wastewater

All of these occupational categories can relate to potential jobs associated with the EPA Brownfields Economic Initiative. The information in this report may help you determine the occupational category or area in which you plan to focus your training program. Each occupational category includes examples of job titles and tasks typically performed in that area. For example, the occupational category of Site Management includes occupations often employed at brownfields sites — decontamination technician, remediation technician, and underground storage tank technician. You may want to share the report with local employers and your advisory committee.

Identifying Entry-Level Tasks through the DACUM Process

DACUM, an acronym for Developing A CurriculUM, is a process that analyzes an occupation systematically. Sometimes referred to as a task analysis, DACUM is a systematic approach used to identify the range of tasks required to perform a job. The analysis is performed by a panel of expert practitioners from the occupation under consideration. Eight to twelve participants are chosen to represent a cross-section from the occupational area. Using a modified brainstorming method, the panel participates in a two-day workshop under the direction of a qualified facilitator.

The panel’s effort results in a DACUM chart which graphically describes an occupation in terms of specific tasks that competent workers must perform. A task is defined as a unit of observable work with a specific beginning and ending point that leads to a product, service, or decision. The chart documents all the required tasks in specific behavioral terms.

There are many methods for developing curricula, and many variations on the DACUM process. Two characteristics distinguish the DACUM process from other methods:

  • Expert practitioners from an occupation analyze their own work tasks rather than using an outside job analyst.
  • Results are produced in graphic form.

Since the DACUM chart provides an excellent source for analyzing tasks within an occupation, many colleges and companies use it as their preferred method for developing programs. These versatile charts also can be used as report cards, recruiting materials, or even actual job descriptions. Instructional designers use the DACUM process because it is a fast, cost-effective method to design relevant curricula.

ATEEC has conducted DACUM’s and developed charts for the following environmental technology occupations: Hazardous Materials Coordinator, Safety and Health Coordinator, Spill Response/Environmental Cleanup Technician, Waste Management Specialist, and Pollution Prevention Specialist. These DACUM charts and others pertaining to the environmental technology field are available on ATEEC’s store (http://www.ateec.org/store/catalog/Defining-Environmental-Technology-Careers-Chart-165.html). Other institutions that have large collections of DACUM charts are Humber College (http://www.humber.ca/) in Ontario, Canada; and the Illinois Office of Educational Services (http://www.ioes.org/) at Southern Illinois University.

Core Knowledge and Skills for Environmental Technology Programs

ATEEC has developed a list of science, math, and technical knowledge and skills for students interested in a career in environmental technology. The assumption underlying this list was that workers/practitioners in any environmental occupation must have acquired certain science, math, and technical skills. Although ATEEC does not claim that the knowledge and skills statements are standards, these “core” concepts assure industry that program graduates have an adequate academic foundation.
The core math, science, and technical knowledge and skills emerged from an analysis of tasks listed in DACUM charts for the following six environmental occupations:

  • Hazardous Materials Management Technician
  • Safety and Health Coordinator
  • Sampling and Monitoring Technician
  • Spill Response and Environmental Cleanup Technician
  • Waste Management Specialist
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment Operator

Again, these environmental occupations can relate to potential jobs associated with EPA’s Brownfields Economic Initiative. The ATEEC knowledge and skills statements provide a basis for developing performance objectives for environmental technology courses. Keep in mind, however, that the knowledge and skills should be considered a “work in progress” as environmental jobs are dynamic. Skills and knowledge sets are likely to change with new technology.

ATEEC believes that every type of environmental technology program should include the following topics either as units of study or as full courses:

  • A basic literacy about environmental technologies and issues (e.g., technologies such as bioremediation, pollution prevention, and incineration, and issues such as climate change and water quality)
  • Compliance with environmental regulations
  • Environmental health and safety
  • Environmental sampling and monitoring

Inclusion of these topics within the curriculum, even if a topic is not part of a particular occupation, enables a graduate to possess a basic literacy about the environmental field at large. That basic literacy helps the graduate to be a “generalist,” which not only is valued by many employers but also increases the graduate’s flexibility in moving on to different emphases within the field.

ATEEC recommends that the technical core of any environmental technology curriculum include the opportunity for students to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid, and in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER). These certifications are often required by employers.

Best Practices in Technical Skills

In the report, Best Practices for Job Training Programs in Brownfields Redevelopment Initiatives, the EPA-funded Brownfields Job Development and Training grantees identified the following best practices in technical skills:

  • Provide awareness of and reasons for health and safety issues.
  • Conduct participatory, hands-on training.
  • Demonstrate proper use of personal protection equipment.
  • Demonstrate effective communication skills (technical writing, oral presentations, and reading).
  • Provide a general knowledge of environmental regulations.
  • Provide overview of Superfund and Brownfields.
  • Provide hazard awareness training.
  • Incorporate information on innovative remediation technologies.
  • Provide fundamental geology course.
  • Incorporate team-building skills.
  • Provide an internship/co-op experience.
  • Utilize team leaders/advisors to support participant throughout technical training.
  • Award certificate after training is completed.
  • Determine the top three or four environmental problems in order to determine training needs.
  • Develop and integrate critical thinking and problem solving skills into activities and exercises.
  • Cross-train participants (e.g. lead, asbestos, radon).
  • Continuously evaluate “pollutant of the year.”
  • Incorporate representatives from state organizations in training development.
  • Provide skills needed for research and attention to details.

Additional Resources