Promoting Professional Training and Certification in Manitoba

Installers and pumpers want to play an important role in writing new provincial wastewater policy

Promoting Professional Training and Certification in Manitoba

Randy and Onale Thomas with Blue (in front) and Maggie (in the cab), a Case CX50 excavator, a 2002 Sterling tandem-axle truck with RENN dump box, and a Bobcat T770 compact track loader.

In States Snapshot, we talk to a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. This time we visit a member of the Manitoba Onsite Wastewater Management Association.

Name and title or job description: Randy Thomas, owner-operator

Business name and location: Wayne’s Backhoe & Excavation, Victoria Beach, Manitoba

Services we offer: Maintenance, installation and service of wastewater systems.

Age: 55

Years in the industry: Our family-owned company has been installing septic systems since 1980, first with Wayne Thomas, my uncle, then myself since 2006.

Association involvement: My wife Onale and I currently hold positions with the Manitoba Onsite Wastewater Management Association, formerly Onsite Wastewater Systems Installers of Manitoba. She is the secretary and I am vice president. We have been members for 16 years.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Our board of directors is continually working on benefits the association can provide its membership. Important benefits at present are liaison and advocacy with the government of Manitoba as our current guidelines and policies are being rewritten. Change is coming and we want to be part of that change. The association recently became a member of the Western Canada Onsite Wastewater Management Association. They offer complete training packages so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we try to do something. And we have a larger voice in dealing with governments.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: The need to build a stronger membership. In our province, there is no real need for installers to belong to an association. Homeowners are allowed to install their own wastewater systems, which counters any real necessity for training, certification and association involvement. We are working to have these policies changed to stress the importance of properly installed wastewater systems through training and certification. MOWMA is currently working with the province on developing curriculum that will see a new standard of certified installers. This is a positive between government and industry.

Our crew includes: We have six employees, three of whom are seasonal workers. Each brings a little different skill set to our company, allowing us to diversify. Onale started out driving the tandem and working on jobs, creating a healthy knowledge of the work we do from a field perspective. She now uses that knowledge to communicate with customers and manage the business, creating systems to help keep the day-to-day operations running smoothly. Onale obtained the necessary training to act as our safety coordinator and internal auditor for our COR safety program (Certificate of Recognition, a national certificate for safety), which includes writing, teaching and inspecting safety policies and procedures. I describe her as the quarterback for Wayne’s Backhoe.

Typical day on the job: Our day starts at 7 a.m. with some office time to check messages and respond to any changes from the day before. Our workers come in by 7:30 and get the trucks and equipment checked out. After a quick daily briefing on the tasks at hand, the guys get the right equipment, tools and materials ready and loaded. We aim to get out of the gate by 8 a.m. We head back to our shop for a barbecue lunch most days. It’s nice to shut the machines off for a bit and it gives us the chance to discuss our day. We find that providing lunch for our crew is an easy way to show appreciation and allows us more opportunities to communicate as a team. Operations are done Monday through Friday. On weekends we open our yard for aggregate sales and we see new customers and provide estimates.

The job I’ll never forget: After a customer finished rebuilding his cottage for which we installed the septic system, we were asked to develop their yard. At the start, the yard was solid brush and large trees. The ground was uneven and it was hard to believe that the property was lakefront. We spent days working on the property taking out many loads of brush, trees and roots, leveling, installing soil and sod, a stone patio, walkways and a fire pit. We even made a custom sandbox for their grandchildren. When we were done the view of the lake was beautiful and the yard was pristine. It was a job that was very visually rewarding.

My favorite piece of equipment: I really like our Case 580SM loader backhoe. Loader backhoes have been part of our company since 1980. Before bringing in excavators, everything was done by the loader backhoe. Its capability will never grow old.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: We had a project that was a new home construction on an old farm field. We installed a Waterloo Biofilter Systems secondary waste system. It was our first one so we were learning this new system and installing it at the same time. We took time out and double-checked everything — except the weather. It rained for days and the more we worked, the deeper we went. We were really stuck in the mud, which was mixed with grass straw and basically turned to cement. It started out well but became very challenging with the “Manitoba gumbo” we were working in. It took weeks to get that field out of our tracks.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: A customer inquired about putting in a septic field and a graywater field — and needed them on either side of the house because he didn’t want one to fill up the other.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: To stop homeowners from installing their own systems. Current regulations allow it, but we are working on getting that changed in the best interest of our industry and the environment.

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: Be a good listener and talk about what you know.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: Our industry in Manitoba will endure changes for some time to come. These changes will take root with the new installers coming into the industry, and in time our industry will flourish as a profession, as will our association. Technology today is amazing and can be overwhelming for some older installers if you’re not practicing it every day. Today we are working with our government to make changes and then we’ll implement those changes for the better. 


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