Sooke wastewater facility to become training centre

Details are still being resolved as to when the program will start and how many trainees will be involve

Sooke’s water and sewage treatment plant is expected to become the first facility of its kind on Vancouver Island to provide hands-on training to future operators.

The initiative comes from a partnership between the District of Sooke and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The certification would be facilitated by the B.C. Water and Wastewater Association and the Environmental Operator Certification Program to help provide hands-on training for junior operators upgrading their skills.

“This is a huge opportunity for the District of Sooke to lead the way in industry skills training in B.C. for waste water collection and treatment operations,” said Coun. Rick Kasper, who is the council representative for the transition group.

Details are still being resolved as to when the program will start and how many trainees will be involved, though Kasper said this is a start to something that could benefit the district and the region in the years to come.

“It’s become increasingly abundantly clear that it’s so critical for employers to make sure that they have workers who are trained and readily available for what their needs are,” he said. “I don’t want to see us in a position where we have to import workers at any level.”

Very few municipalities take on this kind of role, noted chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan, as this is a way to prepare for one or maybe even two treatment plants expected to open up in the Greater Victoria Area within the next few years.

“Within five to 10 years, there will be a shortage of these operators in North America,” Sullivan said, adding that part of the operators’ training is to go to sites around B.C. “On Vancouver Island, there’s no site as large or as intense as ours.”

The district will work with EOCP and BCWWA to complete some kind of agreement, hopefully to benefit all sides.

“With respect to the shortage, we don’t want anybody pilfering our good guys, we want to train them here, pick up the best of the best, but then train them for the plants that will be built on Southern Vancouver Island in the coming years,” Sullivan said.

A training program is just one of the things cooking up for the district’s water treatment facility, as its contract with EPCOR, the company currently in charge, will hand over operations to the municipality when its contract expires on Sept. 31.

“By bringing it in-house, we’ll have $228,000 in savings. That’s even with having it come in-house and being part of the CUPE union agreement,” Kasper said.

Three current employees agreed with the switchover, meaning their positions will remain unchanged when the municipality takes over Oct. 1. An additional employee, filling a management position, has also been hired.