If a water line leaks or a sewer backs up, municipal public works crews need to find the appropriate shutoff or cleanout as quickly as possible – even if there are mounds of snow on top.
“If we didn’t have an accurate location for these, it can be quite time-consuming to locate them,” said Barry McLane, GIS/IT technician for the City of Rossland. “All the while, someone’s basement’s filling up.”
This need for precise information is one of the reasons the city hired a co-op student in summer 2021, with support from the Columbia Basin Trust’s School Works Co-op Wage Subsidy. This program provides wage subsidies to Basin employers to help them hire post-secondary co-op students.
In this case, Rossland hired Connor Lane, a student of Selkirk College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program. His role has been to scour Rossland with a GPS receiver to inventory its underground utility assets.
As Mike Kennedy, the city’s chief financial officer said: “Essentially, he’s been on a treasure hunt for data points.”
It sounds like fun, and Lane agrees that he’s having a great time getting to learn the lay of the land and interacting with property owners.
At the same time, however, he’s getting a valuable educational opportunity, filled with hands-on learning about performing GPS surveying out in the field.
“I think there is a lot of need for a technical person such as myself who has also demonstrated that they are comfortable with field work,” Lane said. “I’ll be a really well-rounded GIS person going forward.”
Plus, the treasure-hunt aspect is enhancing his skills. There are hills…there are trees and bushes…there are buildings in the way.
All this means he must carefully plan his survey missions and “familiarize myself with the workflow of planning out a route to have high success.”
He’s happy he was able to find such a suitable position right near home.
“I was already living in Rossland, so I didn’t have to move or have a lengthy commute.”
Being able to hire a co-op student was also both convenient and beneficial for the city.
“Connor has really been able to hit the ground running. There was very minimal training needed,” said McLane.
It’s reasons like these that the Trust offers the wage subsidy program.
Students get local opportunities to enhance their education, and organizations in the region get important tasks accomplished today while helping to train tomorrow’s long-term employees.
In addition to improving its response to emergencies, the city will be able to use the data Lane gathers to identify areas with reoccurring problems, which could indicate that the assets are dated and need upgrades.
“We’re able to make better decisions about where we’re investing taxpayers’ money,” Kennedy said.
Better managing and improving its infrastructure also helps the city address its “overall shift to be stronger environmental stewards.”
At the same time, the city can offer hands-on experience and mentorship to a student.
“It’s part of our broader role of serving community,” Kennedy said. “I find we get new energy and ideas as well.”