NWCC hosts trades talk in Smithers

A good attitude and a strong work ethic are needed to get into the trades.

Anyone with a good attitude and a strong work ethic can dig, build or wire their way into a skilled trade that pays well and makes them proud.

That upbeat message was echoed by the seven successful tradespeople who spoke at a  Northwest Community College trades forum on Nov. 23.

The message comes against the backdrop of an expected boom in northern B.C.’s mines and gas projects.

Brian Badge, a carpenter and the  head of the college’s trades program, said the coming boom is totally new.

“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 1,000 more.

Up to $25 billion in such projects is 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. They run excavators, loaders and rock trucks, and can make more than $60,000 a year in the second year of work.

Anticipating that demand, the NWCC is running training programs for heavy equipment operators this winter and spring.

But even more than training, Badge and the six other speakers at the forum all agreed that a good attitude is key to finding work in trades.

Dan Boissevain, general manager at the Smithers-based LB Paving, said that’s certainly 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.

When it comes to getting hired, Melissa Robertson said that in trades it pays to be persistent.

Robertson got her electrician’s ticket at 23. She had been on an entirely different path—a university teaching degree—until friends persuaded her to try trades as a summer job.

At first, she got laughed out of a head electrician’s trailer for having zero trades experience.

“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 said she now takes contracts  from Vancouver to Kitimat, wiring everything from houses to hospitals to high-rises.

“I’ve never really looked back,” she said.