Water Journal : Water Journal July 2011
water JULY 2011 59 Training and Skills Development of Operations Staff: What Works -- and What Doesn't Following on from the high level of interest at the National Operations Conference in 2010, AWA's Operations Specialist Network presented a workshop at Ozwater'11 on the topic of training and skills development for operational staff working in the water sector. The workshop was well attended with a mix of operators, managers, regulators, trainers and other interested participants from across the country. A panel of state representatives gave their perspective on the challenges faced in their area of the country. There was a great deal of consistency in the messages from each state, which reinforced that skills development of water and wastewater operators is a national issue that must be addressed. Fiona Mackenzie from AWA presented a summary of the work currently underway in this area. AWA is leading a Water Industry Skills Taskforce to promote and oversee a nationally coordinated effort to address the skills shortage in the water sector. The Taskforce is working collaboratively with Government initiatives to reduce the impact of the water skills shortage, through an appropriate combination of Government and Industry actions and strategies. The National Water Skills Business Plan translates these strategies into tangible actions that are being delivered on a priority basis. There was general agreement that the vast majority of operational staff who work in the water industry are conscientious and capable, and that their role in the community is critically important. In particular, potable water treatment operators provide one of the most basic needs: safe drinking water. There is, however, no mandatory requirement that these operators have any minimum qualifications or certification to operate these treatment plants. Workshop participants worked in small groups to identify pertinent questions that the panel could provide comment on, and to generate discussion around the room. Most groups raised concerns over the lack of experienced trainers to deliver the water-training package, with some operators required to travel interstate to attend courses. Water authorities also placed a lower priority on operational training, as it is not mandatory for its employees. Comparisons were drawn with mandatory safety requirements where training was available and seen as a high priority. Conclusion There is a lot of work to do to convince management in some of the less diligent authorities that operational training is equally as important as workplace safety training. Perhaps having a national requirement for certification of all operators in the water industry is the only way to encourage the same sort of rigour that is placed on workplace safety. After all, a poorly operating water filtration plant can put the health of a whole community at risk. The workshop concluded with the announcement of the 2nd National Operations Conference to be held in Darwin on 11--13 September, 2012. For those who missed the workshop, the Operations Specialist Network will be posting a record of the questions raised and the general responses on their page within the AWA website over the next few weeks, and will aim to keep it updated with any future developments (visit: www.awa.asn.au/SPoperations.aspx). -- Special Report Delegates gathered to hear from the six speakers, who between them spoke about operations training issues around Australia. Michelle Hill (qldwater) spoke on the issues and challenges faced by both large and regional utilities in Queensland.
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