Local Government Magazine
3 Waters

Fixing training gaps in water sector

A new independent advisory group which aims to tackle the dire lack of training opportunities in the water and wastewater sector has just been established. The new group, made of water industry representatives, will be administered by Water New Zealand, and will provide much-needed advice on all aspects of water industry education and training. Jim Graham explains.

The Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry found that there was a lack of leadership in the industry, particularly in the areas of water and wastewater education and training, and that this was a risk to public health and the environment.

For those of us in the sector, this finding was no surprise.
As well as the obvious health risks, the lack of training opportunities has also made it difficult for water suppliers to attract and retain staff.

That’s why Water New Zealand has been working alongside others in the sector such as the Water Industry Operations Group (WIOG) on new initiatives aimed at tackling the long-running problems around training and education.

Underpinning the lack of training is that there is no formalised registration process for operators in the water sector such as that existing for plumbers, drainlayers or electricians. There is a recognised registration process for people who work on houses but nothing for the people charged with providing safe drinking water to communities or protecting the environment.

A report commissioned by the Water Industry Group (the group that advises Connexis on water industry qualifications) last year reaffirmed many issues including the lack of education and training leadership, confusion about roles and responsibilities within the training environment, and a lack of clarity around expectations.

The report also highlighted industry concerns about the lack of available training courses, particularly in water treatment at diploma level (drinking-water and wastewater).

The report provided a springboard for a series of initiatives to be undertaken this year.

The newly-established Independent Water Industry Training Sector Advisory Group will advise Water New Zealand and others on all aspects of water industry education and training.

The advice will feed into Water New Zealand’s strategic plan for education and training which will set out what needs to be done and how it will be achieved.

The first major piece of work will be the preparation of a competency framework which will set out the competencies required, initially for water and wastewater operators, but later for network operators, supervisors and managers. It will allow us to clarify what operators need to know, and be able to do, along with where the education and training gaps are.

Water New Zealand and WIOG will also work together to introduce a continuing professional development scheme based on a similar, previous scheme which was developed but not able to be introduced. The new proposal is that water industry professionals will enrol in the registration scheme and have the opportunity to complete a range of courses and other CPD opportunities.

Currently, many of these courses are already available but there is no framework or organisation around them. The big difference will be that those enrolled in the scheme will gain credits for doing the courses.

WIOG and Water New Zealand then intend to use the course credits, operator qualifications and endorsement from senior industry professionals and employers to provide certified registration for those working in the industry.

While these initiatives are underway, Water New Zealand and WIOG will continue to work with Connexis to hasten the return of a water treatment diploma course for water and wastewater. 

• Jim Graham is principal advisor water quality at Water New Zealand. jim.graham@waternz.org.nz

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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