Water IRC Chair Profile

I am an advocate for VET because it works!” George Wall

In this month’s newsletter we continue a series of profiles featuring the Chairs of each of the 11 Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) we support.

This month we profile the Chair of the Water IRC, George Wall, Managing Director of the Water Industry Operators Association of Australia (WIOA)  

How did you come to work in your industry?

I really fell into a job with the Shepparton Water Board in 1989. My original role was to help set up an irrigation farm to utilise the treated water from the Shepparton Wastewater Treatment Plant. In time, I got involved with the treatment plant operation and enjoyed doing the VET training and learning how wastewater treatment worked. The 1990’s in Victoria was a very turbulent period for the water industry, with lots of amalgamations of water utilities. Over my 16 years with what eventually became Goulburn Valley Water, I was very fortunate to be provided a variety of development opportunities and progressed through a range of operational and then senior management roles.

What is your current role?

After being the voluntary secretary of WIOA from 1995, I was excited to be offered the opportunity to take on the full-time role of Managing Director in 2005, a position I still hold today. With the support of some great mentors, staff, committees and an army of volunteer members from right around Australia, we have expanded WIOA from its Victorian roots to be a truly national organisation. WIOA’s main function is collecting and sharing information with our members and industry, usually through face-to-face training courses, conferences, exhibitions and interest days. Writing this profile in week two of Stage 3 lockdown restrictions in Victoria, COVID-19 has certainly changed that activity, hopefully only temporarily. We also undertake advocacy about the operational side of the industry, and we have a strong commitment to ensuring the National Water Training Package meets the needs of a contemporary workforce delivering essential services.

What is the best part of your job?

Early on, I quickly learnt the vitally important role that water industry operators play in protecting public health and the environment. Our communities can’t exist without the supply of safe drinking water and the appropriate treatment and management of wastewater. Seeing the ongoing passion and commitment of everyone in our industry has fuelled my desire to be part of, and to contribute to the industry for more than 30 years.

There is no question that meeting and engaging with everyone associated with the industry, but particularly the operators from right around the country, is the best part of the job. The water sector is one of the very few industries where information is openly shared, and it’s not just the good stuff. There is a strong sense of responsibility to share all the learnings from incidents, events and business as usual activities to help other organisations to provide an even better service to us, the customers.

Have you undertaken any VET courses, and if so, how have you incorporated these into your work or other pursuits?

I completed a Victorian Certificate in Water Industry Operations way back in 1994, well before the National Water Training Package was developed and implemented in 2001. It was great to be able to upgrade that qualification to a Certificate III after the Training Packages was released. I also completed a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment in 2004 and this sparked my interest in training in general. The technical skills and the learnings from the TAE course were put to good use internally, helping to build the skill base of many operators at Goulburn Valley Water.

Why are you an advocate for Vocational Education and Training?

I am an advocate for VET because it works! I have been fortunate to participate in training from both the VET and university sectors, having also completed a Bachelor of Environmental Technology. From my experience, and at the risk of being simplistic, the VET training equips operators to understand “how” and a bit of the “why processes work”, and the Uni side delves deeply into the “why” stuff. VET provides water industry operations staff with a suite of knowledge and skills designed to allow them to deliver our essential water and wastewater services to communities in a safe, competent and reliable manner. I see the results of this every time I meet with or talk to operators at their plants.

What has your organisation done to develop the skills of its workforce?

As a risk reduction initiative, WIOA is the Certifying Body for a voluntary operator Certification Scheme staged on behalf of the water industry nationally. With the multitude of different treatment process steps that could be employed at an individual treatment plant, it is impossible to create a generic, one- size-fits all qualification. At complicated plants, or where operators are responsible for several plants, they may need far more training than just the base 11 units required to attain a Certificate III. To be certified, operators must be able to demonstrate their competence for all the processes they operate by completing all the matching Units of Competence from NWP. Uptake and acceptance of certification is growing steadily and we look forward to a time when all operators will be certified. WIOA has also developed a series of “Practical Guides” covering key process steps within the water and wastewater treatment fields. Non-accredited training drawing on the content of these guides is delivered regularly around the country.

What are you passionate about? What makes you smile? 

Apart from everything to do with the water industry, golf gives me some exercise (something I need a lot more of) and fishing trips on the Murray River help to download and refresh the brain. The smile bit comes from occasionally catching a good-sized fish. There is no question though, that by far the most passion and smiles come from my family, especially my two grand kids. For those without grand kids, when people say “they change your life”, take it from me, you’d better believe them!