Water First

“Water First Internship Program”

2020 – 2022

The Water First Internship is an 15-month training program providing water treatment technical skills training, delivered by qualified Water First staff, with on the job, hands-on experience and oversight in water treatment plants, by qualified operators. Traditional knowledge and local water resource management is woven throughout the program.

Interns are coached in presentation and interview skills to increase employability, and also offered networking and external workshop opportunities. After completing the program, interns will be supported as they transition into full-time work or pursue further education.

The Water First Internship increases investment in youth employment, job creation and technical skills training among Indigenous Peoples in the fields of water treatment and environmental water science. After completing the program, interns will become certified to work within a water plant or the environmental water field – strongly increasing their near and long-term employability.

Water First establishes water science mentoring networks for First Nations youth. The interns receive support in areas such as resume writing, access to job listings and networking opportunities. Interns will also be supported if they choose to pursue further water science education or training after the program.

The Internship Program has seen consistent growth since its pilot in 2017-2018 on Manitoulin Island. They have now successfully completed 2 more internships (in the Kenora area and in the Georgian Bay area), with 35 graduates of the program to date. In 2022 alone, interns completed a combined 30,000+ hours of training in their local water treatment plants, out on the land and in the classroom.

Approximately 36% of program participants over the past year identified as female, which exceeded our target of 25%.

Supporting interns through the pandemic was difficult. Adhering to travel restrictions and restrictions in some operating plants, as well as having to quickly convert a largely in-person, hands-on training program to be delivered virtually, were all challenges. Many interns expressed that their experience was not the program they had originally signed up for, while others took well to the virtual elements. Water First also had to quickly adapt and balance engagement with maintaining the training required to support interns to take exams and gain the required experience. The program was extended in length to support these requirements, which was beneficial but also difficult for those who had felt they originally signed up for a 15-month program only.

Water First supports interns after they graduate from the program, and they are looking to enhance their Alumni Network based on suggestions from alumni for additional areas of support going forward. This support includes continued financial support and professional development opportunities, networking, mentorship and help in identifying job opportunities.

A few key insights from this work:

  • Water challenges are complex, and each community will have their own unique needs to address local water challenges. Our program focuses on supporting community capacity, but communities may be dealing with other different issues (i.e. water contamination, infrastructure challenges). Over the years, we have learned the importance of in-depth discussions and community consultations leading up to an internship to ensure that the training program we deliver can provide the right solution for the specific water challenges a community is facing. On average, Water First is in discussions with community partners for 1 to 1 ½ years before interns are brought on board. With this approach, interns gain valuable hands-on experience, community partners are invested in the program, and interns are employed upon graduation.
  • The Internship Program is not a one-size-fits-all, sink-or-swim training program; we take a one-on-one approach with each intern to ensure that we meet them where they are and that they are supported through Individual Education Plans that enhance their individual learning journeys.
  • We have learned the value and importance of relationship and trust-building with interns and community partners. Understanding the historical context of each community, as well as their unique cultures and local traditions, and ensuring that space is created to appreciate and value this work, is critical before any project moves forward. Specifically, hosting and holding space for local Knowledge Keepers is the most effective and authentic way to include opportunities for cultural exchange and learnings. Interns for Water First’s programs are recruited and hired from within the community. After completing the program, graduates are equipped to find employment locally, if that’s their goal. This also supports other employers and organizations who partner with Indigenous communities on water science or environmental initiatives. There is no substitute to hiring someone who has both the technical skills and the lived experience from their own community. Indigenous youth employment also benefits the community. Having local skilled workers increases a community’s professional and technical capacity, along with additional coordination and support for local initiatives. Youth employment helps a community build toward greater autonomy and self-governance. A community can take pride in investigating or solving local challenges with local resources.


About Water First

Water First Education & Training Inc. is Canada’s leading charity dedicated to working in partnership with Indigenous communities to address local water challenges through education, training and meaningful collaboration.

Water First is guided by the Indigenous youth and young adults who participate in our programs, our Indigenous staff and board members, local Indigenous community partners, and by members of our Indigenous Advisory Council. Our collaborations are built on respect and meaningful partnerships, with Indigenous youth and community partners at the heart of our work. While we strive to meaningfully engage with many Indigenous individuals through our work, we do not identify as an Indigenous-led organization.