Students taking an introductory welding program in Houston are nearing the finish line despite COVID-19 bringing instruction to a temporary halt this spring.
Run by the UA Piping Industry College of B.C., a union-sponsored training agency, the program began with a full complement of 16 students in March but the pandemic has since reduced the class size to 13, said Kevin Jeffery, the college’s northern B.C. coordinator.
On-line instruction did take place but about six weeks of practical shop time within the 28-week program length was lost until activity resumed in May. Program completion is set for late September.
“Students that need more practice on certain welds unfortunately won’t have the time as we need to move on to the next [program] section,” Jeffery said.
He added that students working on time management skills will be able to get the practice they need while some students have welding equipment at home and others have part time jobs after school and on weekends with welding companies to further bolster their skills.
“In non-COVID times they would have had more time to hone their skills and make a few more projects,” said Jeffery.
The decision to locate the program in Houston was based on the concept of providing local people with the skills to take advantage of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline now under construction. It’ll feed the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant in Kitimat.
But the concept of local training goes back more than a decade when another natural gas pipeline project, Pacific Trail, was being proposed for another liquefied natural gas project at Kitimat called Kitimat LNG. And the idea accelerated when Rio Tinto revamped its Kitimat aluminum smelter.
“The idea was to provide training for people from the area so they would have employment opportunities,” said Jeffery.
Houston Secondary School signed on as a partner, making its facilities available for in-class and practical instruction and the UP Piping Industry College brought in its own eight-bay mobile welding training trailer.
The school district’s cooperation extended to busing Smithers students back and forth to Houston, Jeffery added.
“They’re wonderful to work with,” he said.
In addition to welding, students are also learning the basics of plumbing, steamfitting and sprinkler fitting.
One of the students is from Houston Secondary and Jeffery noted that high school students have the advantage of obtaining dual credits for high school as well as credits toward an eventual high-level Red Seal welding certification.
Of the starting class, two of the other students were from the Houston area, seven were from Smithers Secondary School, two from Burns Lake, one from Telkwa and two from Gingolx in the Nass Valley.
With the course completion now in sight, representatives from Pacific Atlantic Pipeline Construction, one of Coastal GasLink’s prime contractors, have spoken to the class and have taken resumes.
“They interviewed six of our students last week and soon as they are finished the program, they can go to work,” said Jeffery.
Both Coastal GasLink and Pacific Atlantic have provided financial and other supports for students with further assistance coming from the provincial Industry Training Authority B.C. and a union training innovation program which is financed by a federal grant.