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All partners of the IWAMA project are encouraged to take up a commitment to the Baltic Sea Challenge network, which aims at saving the Baltic Sea and ensuring its good environmental status. Among the commitments prepared by project partners throughout the IWAMA implementation, several deal with capacity development actions and practices. In particular, EVEL – Estonian Waterworks Association committed to launch a training center for wastewater treatment operators: it was done, and the first group of students has been leaning in the Järvamaa Vocational Training Centre since September 2017.

 

The need for knowledge

Since Estonia’s accession to the European Union ca 1 billion euros have been allocated to the local water management sector. The size of investments indicates the overall level of innovativeness and automation reached in this sector.

The degree of automation is high today: some of the water and wastewater treatment plants can be even operated via smartphone. This simultaneously poses a challenge for the development of operators’ expertise that concerns everyone. Despite the significant advancement of the sector, people working in it are the same, with the same level of knowledge, whereas young enthusiastic people do not find attractive joining the sector.

A study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment on the wastewater treatment plants built with the EU support revealed that despite having excellent equipment and automation installed, the performance of plants remains inadequate without a proper operator.

 

Vision to create an international centre of excellence for water treatment

“It’s not that once we built it – that’s it. What about the future? We should be also able to keep it running. What is to be done then? The operator should be the first to understand that something is wrong. So, he will have a look at it, examine, and then tell the engineer there is probably something wrong,” says Jaak Jaaku, professor in microbiology. Such approach emphasizes the importance of the operator’s profession in the water sector work.

To increase the level of knowledge in plant operating, a special two-year study program for operators was launched in Järvamaa Vocational Training Centre (JKHK) in September 2017. The study program was prepared jointly by the Estonian Water Works Association (EVEL) and JKHK. Ivar Kohjus, the leading teacher in JKHK and one of the authors of the program, underlines that only 20% of the learning process takes place in the classroom, while the rest is made of a practice in a company. Over this two-year period, the students will have over ten different lecturers. The studies will culminate in a vocational examination, and the prize for successful passing of courses will be a professional certificate meeting European professional standards.

Even though the whole program at the moment is taught in Estonian, the student group of 24 is varied – one of the students comes from Nigeria speaking well Estonian language.

“We have a vision – we want to create an international centre of excellence for water treatment operating in Järvamaa Vocational Training Centre. The basic training courses taken within the framework of the vocational training must be followed by a systematic further training. We want to gather everything in one centre, because this way we can be more effective,” says Vahur Tarkmees, Managing Director of EVEL.

Next group of students will start their water operator studies in autumn 2018.