A new 15-month paid water treatment plant operator internship program for Indigenous youth and young adults has launched near Orillia, Ontario, where eight interns from five First Nations will begin to pursue valuable provincial certifications for careers in the water sector.
Water First Education & Training Inc., in partnership with the Ogemawahj Tribal Council (OTC), got the program underway at the Chippewas of Rama First Nation in June.
About 25% of Ontario First Nations are currently impacted by water advisories, said OTC leaders.
“This type of expertise will provide our members with opportunities to utilize their skills in our communities and also provide a pool of skilled workers that can be utilized in any community Ontario-wide,” announced Mary McCue-King, executive director of the OTC, in a statement.
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After participating in a water ceremony, the interns learned about watersheds, water treatment processes, as well as math and chemistry. The interns were also taken on a tour of the Rama First Nation water distribution system and drinking water treatment plant, according to Water First, which works with Indigenous communities to resolve local water challenges and facilitate training.
Water First has already successfully implemented four internship partnerships, with the fourth internship approaching graduation in fall 2023. To date, through Water First’s Drinking Water Internship Program, 48 interns from 31 Indigenous communities have passed their Operator in Training exams and logged approximately 81,000 hours working in local water plants and attending workshops.
“Local, qualified personnel are critical to ensuring sustainable access to safe water,” announced Water First Executive Director John Millar in a statement. “Through the Drinking Water Internship collaboration with Ogemawahj Tribal Council, interns gain important skills and experience towards future careers in the water sciences, as well as employability skills, and access to an alumni network. We are excited to be embarking on this partnership with Ogemawahj Tribal Council and supporting the interns on their education and employment journeys.”
Each intern will accumulate 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience in water treatment plants over the course of the internship towards certifications such as Operator in Training (OIT), Entry Level Course (ELC), and Water Quality Analyst (WQA). Additional workshops cover introductions to mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and introduction to environmental water, which can lead to work in both drinking water treatment and environmental water careers.
“The training and certifications open doors to so many opportunities,” said Laura Mallinson, a previous internship graduate from Nipissing First Nation. “In the community, having more local people trained as water operators means we can do more preventative maintenance and daily tasks, and not just react to issues. There are more trained people who can help keep the water flowing.”
Everyone has a role to play at a water treatment plant. Take Elijah—he works hard to help provide safe, clean water for his community. He completes hours at the plant for the Drinking Water Internship Program, and he’s gaining invaluable skills and mentorship from his colleagues. pic.twitter.com/OyuSocoNUw
— Water First Education & Training Inc. (@waterfirstngo) August 18, 2023