Recognize Septic System Installation and Pumping as Professional Trades

Implementing an apprenticeship-based system that incorporates hours worked and schooling would be beneficial to the industry’s reputation

Recognize Septic System Installation and Pumping as Professional Trades

David White 

In States Snapshot, we visit with a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. This time we learn about a member of the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association.

David White: President and owner

Business: Ken White Construction, Carp, Ontario

Age: 53

Years in the industry: Ken White Construction was founded in 1968. We’re in our 50th year of business, and I have been working with the company for 35 years. 

Association involvement: I have been a general member of the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association since its incorporation in 1998.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Firstly, it gives our industry a voice with government agencies. This is something that would be daunting to tackle as individuals, but as members of an association, you are genuinely listened to and heard. It also provides opportunities for continued education, which I think is excellent. It increases professionalism in the industry as a whole and the expertise of the individuals who partake. As a family-run, small-business owner, I also find the networking opportunities extremely beneficial. You get to meet with and learn from various industry players who you wouldn’t come into contact with in your daily operations. Finally, the association also keeps its members up to date on industry news and advancements. This allows me to stay on top of trends and information that may not otherwise have come to my attention. Overall, belonging to the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association is a great learning experience and opportunity for growth.  

Biggest issue facing your association right now: New member acquisition is our biggest challenge. I think this is true of membership-based associations as a whole. There are so many benefits to being a member. However, without an inside perspective, it can be hard to fully grasp the value and opportunity. The cost versus benefit analysis may be skewed. I believe the association can address this issue by creating more awareness as to what it means to be a member or by hosting open events to give people a chance to test it out.  

Our crew includes: Taylor White, sales manager; Valerie Black, office manager; Gabrielle Davis, head of marketing; Corey Lurette, site coordinator; Craig Findlay, truck driver; and equipment operators Phil Wallace, Ken Turcot and Alan Proulx

Typical day on the job: My day usually starts at a job site before I head into the office. I make sure I am there early with my crew so I can confirm the expectations, roles and requirements for the task at hand. It is crucial that the entire team is on the same page. This allows us to work efficiently and, most important, keeps everyone safe with clear communication. I then head to the office and take care of my work there. This typically includes emails, quotes, phone calls and meeting with clients regarding future work. To end my day, I head back to the site(s) and make sure everything is proceeding as planned. This helps my team and me prepare for what’s to come the following morning.  

The job I’ll never forget: We were asked to do some excavation work for a high-tech business during the high-tech boom. It wasn’t until two years later that we finally finished all the work that needed to be done. What began as a small excavation job ended up being a full site rebuild. We gained a lot of knowledge through our work with this client. Things happened fast — the work increased with the surge in the client’s business. It was a priceless experience that pushed us out of our comfort zone. As a result, that job helped us branch out and take on new types of work.  

My favorite piece of equipment: That would be my 170 Komatsu excavator. We are able to complete a lot of our jobs with this one piece of equipment. This is true for septic systems and a lot of our site jobs. It is versatile and allows us to work more efficiently. It also becomes more cost-effective for us when we don’t have to float in multiple pieces of equipment to complete a job.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: A septic tank and treatment system installation where we had to deal with groundwater and 13 feet of peat moss on the site. We had a tight area to work in so we could only use smaller equipment. This restriction required us to excavate our machine to a lower grade in order to reach the required solid ground. At that point, we had to haul in a large amount of granular material and compact to 98 percent proctor. This was to ensure the new septic tank and treatment unit wouldn’t experience any settling after installation. It was challenging because of the extra steps required to get the job started. These extra steps were not foreseen and made for a bit of a headache. 

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: From time to time we get asked, “Can I pay you next year?” It’s comical to me because there are very few services where you would even consider asking such a question. Harmless, of course, but it never fails to surprise me.  

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: There’s a portion of the design process that calculates the daily flow for residential septic systems. I believe living space should be excluded from these calculations. There are several instances where we see the living space square footage require a septic system be much larger than necessary. If the residents are unable to produce enough waste to meet the minimum sewage and bacteria requirements for the septic system’s design, these systems aren’t functioning efficiently and create a much greater cost than necessary.  

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: My father always said, “Be honest, be reliable and surround yourself with good people. The work will come and you will feel good about the way you live.” This advice has stuck with me, and I continue to run the business with these words in mind.  

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Still be involved in the construction industry, probably something heavy equipment-related. Growing up surrounded by the industry has given me a variety of experiences and made me very comfortable. It’s what I know. I also really enjoy working with new and different people. You can learn something from everyone you meet. Construction is dynamic and allows me to interact with different people every day.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I hope to see the wastewater industry move toward becoming a more recognized, professional trade. For example, I think implementing an apprenticeship-based system that incorporates hours worked and schooling would be beneficial to the industry’s reputation. Such a shift would benefit both the customers and industry players because it would be easier to recognize professionals. I do believe the wastewater industry will adopt apprentice-based education eventually. More prominently, I think we will notice the wastewater industry becoming more technology-based and environmentally friendly. These are two trends we are seeing in society as a whole and I believe the industry will follow suit. The most prominent ways we will start to see that will be increased environmentally friendly materials, practices and online remote system monitoring. 


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