Student Travis Marsh operates a control panel of one of the steam boilers used by the Skeena Technical School for training. (Jackie Lieuwen photo)

Terrace power engineering school seeks to fill workforce gap

Skeena Technical School equips its students with 1,000 hours of hands-on training

With demand growing in the power engineering workforce in B.C. and Alberta, and more development and LNG projects proposed for the northwest, one lifetime power engineer in Terrace is seeking to fill that gap .

Allan Lanctot has worked in the field for 47 years, including at Methanex and Rio Tinto in Kitimat, and co-owns a power engineering consulting company called Lakelse Consulting Services.

He opened Skeena Technical School in 2016, which he says is a legacy project for him. His aim is to raise up a generation of workforce-ready power engineers to fill the demand in the workforce.

“Right now there’s 150 jobs open in B.C, and they can’t fill the jobs,” Lanctot said, adding that these jobs are paying $30 an hour.

But part of the problem is that training programs have often turned out people who are technically sound, but lacking practical hands-on knowledge, Lanctot said, so many companies are now starting to require experience. lists more than 200 power-engineering jobs in B.C., with many of them requiring up to two years of experience, even for fourth class jobs.

Different from electrical engineers, power engineers operate and manage industrial plants with boilers and refrigeration units.

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The co-operative style Skeena Technical School offers a one-year fourth class power engineering program and one-year third class level program, each including 1,000 hours of hands-on work experience, 600 hours of classroom theory, and 400 hours of lab work including the completion of Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and other safety courses.

Classroom work happens at the offices above Dairy Queen and the practical work on boilers happens in Thornhill at the prior “Lion’s Den” to the northeast of the Thornhill Fire Department.

Since the fail rate for the provincial exams is close to 30 per cent, Lanctot says they’ve made a concerted effort to change the way they do school.

Student Travis Marsh works on a steam boiler. (Jackie Lieuwen photo)

“You need to change schools, such that you’re training skills like how to troubleshoot, how to think for yourself, how to ask questions… things you can’t learn out of a book,” said Lanctot. “There’s a certain amount of things you have to learn out of a book, but those are the base knowledge. [We need to] go beyond that.”

Lanctot says that at the school they don’t bell curve students, but work with them until they have the knowledge they need to pass their exams.

So far, Skeena Technical School has three alumni — working at Mills Memorial Hospital, the Kitimat Ice arena and the Terrace Sportsplex — and there are five students enrolled this year.

One of the students, Markus Platzer, is from Kamloops and said he choose power engineering because of interest, how it applies to so many operations and companies in society, and because of the availability of jobs.

Sometimes the issue is the location of where they’re living, but some of it is because there simply isn’t work for all the people trained.

“From the research I did, there’s a lot of people in this field, but there is also going to be a massive amount of retirement from the baby boomers in the next five years,” he said.

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A mature student, Platzer says he chose Skeena Technical School because it’s certified by the Private Training Institutions Branch and offers 1,000 hours of firing time.

“It’s a lot more practical,” he said. “We’ve almost, pretty much built a mini power-plant. So we’re being trained to survive in the workforce.”

Also, because of the size of the school, Platzer said he gets a lot of one-on-one time with his instructor, and gets personal questions answered.

“The level of learning here is more like actually being tutored… there’s a strong focus on everybody’s strengths and weaknesses, so if you’re struggling with something… he walks you through it.”

The school is having an open house on June 26, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at its boiler room trailers in Thornhill and classrooms in Terrace. The classrooms are at 4643 Park Ave., above Dairy Queen, and their boiler room trailers are at the old Lion’s Den northwest of the Thornhill Fire Department (3160 Highway 16 East).

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Jackie Lieuwen photo Curtiss Bothner, an instructor at Skeena Technical School shows some of the boilers that have been donated to the school for training. One of the boilers is an old one from Mills Memorial Hospital.

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