Human Resources – Resources that Matter Most

Human Resources Matter Most

In the water industry, we talk a lot about our natural resources, how to use them and how to protect them. We don’t often talk about our human resources. This resource deserves some attention, though, because it is humans — operators, planners, regulators, contractors — who make it possible to enjoy water as a natural resource in our communities.

The summer issue of our magazine focuses on the theme of human resources and how they contribute to the health, viability and management of water resources. Without the people behind the scenes, we couldn’t enjoy the water infrastructure we do today. Our current issue, available online, puts the focus on operators particularly the importance recruitment, apprenticeships and ongoing professional development play in supporting our human capital.

Recruiting Operators

One article in the summer edition of our magazine focuses on the difficulty of attracting high quality operators to plants based in smaller cities and out the way locations.

The key challenges small plants in recruitment include:

  • Fewer hours available to work because of automation;
  • Competition from plants in larger cities;
  • The need for operators to wear many hats in smaller plants;
  • The additional cost of Northern allowance premiums;
  • And competition from other industries that need water operators like pulp mills.

Operator Apprentice Programs

Other articles address ways to overcome these challenges for recruiting highly qualified operators to these water treatment and wastewater plants, plants that need great operators to help smaller communities thrive.

One way to help recruit operators no matter the location of a plant is through apprentice programs. Many trades ranging from electricians to carpenters use an apprenticeship model to recruit, train and hone the skills of young people entering the field.

In these programs, apprentices learn most of their skills, about 80 percent on the job, supervised by masters in the field. The other 20 percent of learning comes in a more traditional classroom format.

The summer magazine issue highlights an apprentice program in Manitoba, a joint effort  joint
of the Manitoba Water & Wastewater Association (MWWA), Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) and the Province of Manitoba to establish the new trade of Water and Wastewater Technician.

These programs can help attract young people to the trade, provide them the training they need and give them a leg up in the job market. The programs can also introduce young men and women to the benefits of working in underserved areas including rural locations and smaller plants.

Ongoing Professional Development

The apprentice program and the need to attract high quality operators to smaller plants highlights the need for ongoing emphasis in water trades on training and professional development.

Training provides operators information on how to use new systems or meet new regulations. It’s sort of like getting a tutorial on a new smartphone you might buy. Training is necessary because new products and new regulations crop up all the time.

Ongoing professional development delves deeper, helping to develop operators as lifelong learners within their profession. The need for professional development has grown along with the changes in operator certification that now require operators to earn Continuing Education Units — CEUs — to maintain certification.

Two articles in the summer issue discuss both the need for high quality professional development and the benefits of training. The article on professional development highlights some of the best practices of professional development and two women changing the face of professional development in our field — Colleen Strand, a 35-year veteran wastewater treatment operator, and Molly Ayotte, a seasoned technical writer with experience in adult education.

Taking care of our human resources can help us better care for our natural resources. Take a look at the summer issue of our magazine to read more about how we’re following these human resource trends.