With a friendly attitude and a strong work ethic, anyone in northern B.C. can dig, build or wire their way into a well-paying trades career.
That was the upbeat message echoed by seven electricians, contractors and auto painters who addressed a trades form at Northwest Community College on Nov. 23.
The message comes as Houston and other towns in the northwest anticipate a boom in major mining and gas projects.
Brian Badge, a carpenter and head of trades at NWCC, said that will require an unprecedented number of skilled trades workers.
“Never in our time have we seen the amount of activity that we’re about to witness in the next 10 years,” he said.
For example, Badge pointed to a $2.4 billion project to upgrade Kitimat’s aluminum smelter. It has already meant 500 new hires by Rio Tinto Alcan, and they will likely need 1000 more.
Up to $25 billion in such projects are expected over the next five years, Badge said.
“They all come with jobs that can be had by northerners,” he added, but warned that locals will have to get training to land them. Some 10,000 skilled workers are expected to immigrate to Canada next year, he said.
Badge referred to a labour-market report due in December that shows heavy equipment operators will be B.C.’s most in-demand trades workers for the next 10 years.
Such operators run big machines like excavators, loaders and rock trucks and can make upwards of $60,000 a year.
Anticipating that demand, the Houston campus of NWCC is running training for heavy equipment operators this winter and spring. A new capentry program is also coming to Houston next year.
But even more than training, Badge said a good attitude is the key to success in trades.
Dan Boissevain, general manager at LB Paving, said that’s certainly been true in his experience.
“We can teach people to do almost everything,” Boissevain said, adding that he himself started as “a labourer on the end of a shovel or a wheelbarrow.”
What employers can’t teach, he said, is how to be friendly at work and get along with people.
A considerate attitude is also key to workplace safety, said electrician Pat Gallagher.
“You have to work safe and make the site safe for everybody else,” said Gallagher.
“You don’t leave tools laying around or reels of wire where people are going to trip over them.”
To get hired, it also pays to be persisent, said Melissa Robertson.
When Robertson got her electrician’s ticket, at 23, she had been on an entirely different path—a university teaching degree.
That was before her friends persuaded her to try trades as a summer job.
Robertson said it was hard at first. She actually got laughed out of an electrician’s trailer for having zero trades experience.
Still, Robertson persisted.
“It took about three weeks, and the deal I made with him was that I would work two weeks for free,” she said.
The crew gave her the worst jobs, she said, “but I made it through and it’s been an awesome trade.”
Robertson now runs her own small electrician’s company, taking contracts from Vancouver to Kitimat.
People still do a double-take when they meet a female electrician, she said, but it doesn’t phase her.
Since getting her ticket, Robertson said she’s wired everything from houses to hospitals to high-rises.
“I’ve never really looked back,” she said.