College eyes trades boom

Northwest Community College is looking for $1.5 million dollars for trades training.

NORTHWEST COMMUNITY College is looking for nearly $1.5 million to better train people for jobs at major projects in the region.

The money, in the form of grants from the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Canada program and from Northern Development Initiative Trust, would buy heavy equipment simulators and, later on, heavy equipment itself.

College trades dean Margo Van der Touw describes the need for heavy equipment operators as just part of a growing demand for skilled labour.

“This is a once in a life-time opportunity,” says van der Touw of a list of projects covering everything from mines to power lines to liquefied natural gas plants to hydro-electric facilities and of employees required for each.

Conservative estimates place the dollar value of the projects at more than $10 billion and the job numbers in the thousands.

NWCC trades students walk by examples of the demand everyday – postings and newspaper ads from companies looking for people cover a bulletin board in the hallway of the college’s trades building here in Terrace. Listed wages rates of more than $30 an hour  and attractive benefits are common.

Van der Touw said the college is ideally suited to provide the kind of training that’s needed thanks to its network of campuses and its experience in the region. That’s why she and college trades chair Brian Badge emphasize the college’s ability to take training to where people live.

That mobile ability including packing up everything needed for a heavy equipment operator course, including a mobile simulator, and taking it to Atlin this year.

“We had the carpenters so we were able to build crates for shipping,” said Van der Touw.

The mobile simulators have a TV screen in front of an operator’s seat containing controls and one TV screen behind the seat, displaying exactly what a person would experience in the field.

They’re used in what the college calls the heavy equipment operator foundation program in which a person is trained right up to the point where they can step into the cab of an actual piece of heavy equipment, said Badge.

Hands on training comes from taking the heavy operator equipment technician’s course.

Van der Touw and Badge use a January 2012 study on industrial employment requirements as one of their guides to program development.

Prepared for BC Hydro and originally tied to its Northwest Transmission Line and projects which could develop because of the line, the study also looked at other potential developments.

It concluded that while jobs could soon flood the northwest, area residents need to be trained to take advantage. It also forecasts a skilled labour shortage based on development expectations.

There’s a need, for instance, for drillers and blasters and the college would love to put on a course training people to be commercial arborists, said Badge and Van der Touw.

Badge is also getting used to company representatives turning up at his office door saying they want to hire people. Others tour the college’s trades training facilities.

“Companies know their construction schedules. They know when they will need people” he said.

Unstated in the college’s planning is knowing that if northwesterners aren’t trained, people from elsewhere will be taking those jobs.

“Our goal is to train as many people as we can from our area to benefit from the jobs in the area, “ said Badge. “What we also need to do is make people more aware of the opportunities.” he said.

Badge and Van der Touw say companies have a  vested interest in hiring local people because paying to bring people here costs extra. people from elsewhere and then put them up in accommodation.

“We know that people trained in the north, stay in the north,” said Van der Touw.

And they’re quick to point out that while the focus may be on training for skilled construction and construction-related jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for other skilled trades as well in occupations ranging from culinary arts workers to accountants.


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