First Nations Training Program
The SaskWater First Nations operator training program helps First Nations across Saskatchewan. SaskWater circuit trainers travel to First Nations communities throughout the province to provide hands-on training and support to their water and wastewater operators. The trainers are on-site regularly to help operators troubleshoot their specific issues. They assist with emergency technical problems and preventative maintenance, and they are involved in creating emergency response plans and required training schedules.
“They’re in the plant at least every month, and sometimes weekly,” said SaskWater’s Randonn Swan, Manager, Special Services. “So they know how best to support their operators.”
This program got its innovative start over 40 years ago. In 1978, the Department of Northern Saskatchewan began developing a program to help northern residents operate and maintain their water and wastewater services. The first round of the program was offered in 1979, through a pilot project that led to the development of an instructional manual. Through the seminars that followed, operators and technical staff identified 160 skill units associated with water and sewage treatment, water distribution, and sewage collection.
Even in its earliest iteration, the program combined hands-on, on-site instruction with a detailed reference manual. The in-person instruction provided the skills and competencies to address the most common issues, and the reference manual served as an in-depth guide to solving other problems. A consistent, high-quality training program meant that local operators would be better equipped to provide dependable, economically efficient services.
In 1984, the program became the responsibility of the Saskatchewan Water Corporation (SaskWater). After nearly a decade of successfully running the program, SaskWater was asked to provide an overview of the program to the First Nations Water Treatment Plant Operators Committee in Ottawa in 1993. This meeting was a significant step towards the development of a national training program based on SaskWater’s model.
SaskWater is now contracted by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to provide training at 29 different locations around the province. In addition to training, SaskWater provides regular updates on project milestones and provides ISC with an annual report. The program will continue to evolve to fit the needs of First Nations communities as technology and regulatory requirements continue to change.
“It’s good, important work that needs to be done, and we’re good at it,” said Swan. “Our employees are really well-trained and they have tons of experience and they like what they do, so it’s a good fit for the corporation.”