Fundamentals of Water and Wastewater Operations
A new BCIT program in the Lower Mainland
By Kalpna Solanki CPHI(C) BSc MBA
It wasn’t even two years ago, that Metro Vancouver, BCIT, and the EOCP started a conversation on the need for an Operator training program in the Lower Mainland – where the need for water and wastewater Operators is acute.
It took a lot of coordination, collaboration, and determination, but fast forward to 2021, a full cohort of students started in the program in January. I took the opportunity to connect with Syed Abdullah (Zaki), Program Coordinator and Instructor, School of Construction and the Environment, and checked on how the program was progressing.
Where are the students from? All the students are from the Lower Mainland, and some of them are working for Metro Vancouver, and the others are hoping for employment in the field.
How successful have the students been in obtaining Co-Op terms? Very successful! The students are either already working for Metro Vancouver or obtained 6-week Co-Op placement with Metro Vancouver.
What are some of the strengths of this program: The program covers the four areas that Operators work in: water treatment, water distribution, wastewater collection, and wastewater treatment. The feedback from the students on the components of the program has been very positive. The feedback from the instructors has also been positive. The goal of the program is to give as much real-life experience as possible.
What happens when the pandemic is over? The program is designed for distance learning and most components will remain online. Students however would come in for field trips when travelling restrictions ease.
What are some words of wisdom for future students? BCIT uses a learning hub, and it is helpful if students come with expertise of using online learning tools. If the students come with motivation to work hard on their studies, there is great support from the sector for Co-Ops and ultimately employment!
What interested you in the program?
SB: I currently work in a laboratory, but have always had an interest in the operations side. Interest has always been more on the macro level, and really enjoy the science behind the operating. What’s going on in each tank, the reactions, and the microorganisms involved, etc. Although working in a lab at a WWT facility, I am also very interested in the other components, and being able to put the full picture together in terms of how the different components interact with other.
FB: I was interested in the program long before the program started. I worked with two colleagues previously in the dental industry and they moved onto working at Iona, and told me about the program. Also of interest was the salary and the hours. I was not that interested in the trades, and although interested in the program, could not move to Kelowna or Kamloops to take the program. When the BCIT program came up, it was just perfect. But going back to school in my 40s was a bit intimidating, but career changes can be made at any time. The bonus was that with COVID-19, BCIT developed this as a distance education model, which was perfect for someone with a family who is working. The instructors are within the industry, having a high chance of placement, so the combination was really useful.
How have classes been progressing for you?
SB: The pace and content are very good. I have had a chance to move ahead a little bit as I’ve had some time available.
FB: They have been progressing very well. Moving to an online format has been a bit of a change, but it works well, and I feel that I have adapted well. The education has been useful for my work at Iona where I started working soon after the wastewater treatment module ended.
What is your goal when the program ends?
SB: I will likely have some more options; the program will help me personally, and also be of help to Metro Vancouver. The goal is to personally enhance my own knowledge and work with the organization as it undergoes some major upgrades and expansion. I am already working as a team lead, and this will help Metro Vancouver achieve a better end product.
FB: I want to write my OIT exam, accumulate work experience, and then write my Level I exam. My long-term goal is to become a Level IV Operator, and I hope to move up into management at some point. That is the benefit of taking the program at BCIT and working at Metro Vancouver. Also, having reciprocity in place which allows me to work anywhere in Canada is a bonus.
What are you more interested in – water or wastewater, and why?
SB: Both have very interesting components. Until the program, I did not know the aspects related to water distribution such as preventing contamination when repairing breaks. There is also interesting science behind water treatment. In general, I find them both equally interesting.
FB: Currently, I am working in wastewater as it’s a growing industry, and Metro Vancouver is building a solids dewatering facility. Also, with wastewater treatment, there is such a huge potential to protect the environment.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about the program?
SB: I would say “go for it”! A bit biased as I really enjoy this. Three stakeholders have come together to help develop a program that is of benefit to everyone in the Lower Mainland. It is difficult to get people to go to programs elsewhere, and difficult to get graduates from the other programs to stay here after their co-op programs end. Win:win:win.
FB: Definitely do it! It opens many doors for those thinking of a career change, or for those who are starting off in their careers. There is such a great opportunity to work in an organization that protects the environment. The wages and benefits are also very good. I have been recommending the program to others.
Find out more about this new program at https://tinyurl.com/m9rn5ds2