Carrying the burden of water during COVID-19 and beyond

logo of city of red deer

ASET member success Story

With cities and communities in crisis due to a global pandemic, people now more than ever rely on the smooth and stable performance of essential services. Colin Stebner, lead operator of water distribution for the City of Red Deer and member of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), helps ensure that the water keeps flowing no matter what.

Born and raised in Red Deer, the environmental engineering technologist oversees all water distribution for his home town. He says that COVID-19 may have impacted the way he works, but not that the work gets done. The pandemic has restricted his ability to provide face-to-face customer service so he spends more time on the phone with Red Deer residents, finding and communicating solutions to problems rather than going out into the field. Like so many professionals, he has worked from home, engaging with other water distribution operators via FaceTime and receiving constant feedback about daily operations.

An average workday starts with a 7 a.m. morning safety meeting involving the foreman and operators. Scheduled tasks are assigned to the crew, including water meter exchanges, hydrant repairs and operating valves for projects. Stebner will speak with the water superintendent, complete field safety inspections, and participate in meetings about budget, utilities or projects. He responds to imminent issues regarding water pressure, supply and other customer emergencies.

What may come as a surprise for some is that Stebner, 34, didn’t initially flow towards a career in water distribution. Instead of attending a polytechnic as would typically be the case among those in his field, he went to business school at the University of Alberta. However, he spent his summers working for environmental services at the City of Red Deer. There, his eyes were opened to water distribution and the intricate process necessary to provide clean drinking water to customers. After graduation, he landed a full-time position as a water section specialist with the city.

He decided to pursue a certified engineering technologist (CET) designation to learn more about the technical side of the job and open doors for career advancement in the future. Since he had a business degree and not an engineering technology diploma, he took the unconventional route to attaining his CET through ASET’s competency-based assessment program.

Formally launched in 2016, the ASET program enables engineering technology professionals who have not graduated from an engineering technology program or who are unable to produce academic transcripts to demonstrate equivalency to the academic requirements for the CET or certified technician (CTech) designations without having to return to school full-time.

To do so, applicants like Stebner must assess themselves against Canadian Technology Accreditation Criteria (CTAC) in their discipline of practice and prepare a portfolio with supporting documentation. Stebner says it was a two-and-a-half-year effort to earn his CET, including preparation of a prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) portfolio and writing a professional practice exam (PPE).

“A lot of people don’t realise that you can go the competency route to establish a career in this field,” said Stebner who refers to himself as a water guy with a business degree. “I have always valued lifelong learning and the importance of education. Becoming an environmental engineering technologist has allowed me to expand my technical experience and take a more diversified approach when working on technical projects.”

Now that he has his CET through ASET’s competency-based assessment program, some of his colleagues have decided to follow suit.

“A lot of job descriptions offering opportunities to advance in this profession require CET designations. It’s nice to see that a clear pathway to get there has been established by ASET,” added Stebner.

“Colin is a sterling example of the inherent value ASET-certified engineering technology professionals bring to the public services and amenities on which Albertans depend,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “The fact that he achieved his career goal with the support and guidance of ASET’s competency-based assessment program shows that there are boundless opportunities for anyone with an interest in, and passion for, a given engineering technology discipline.”