Employer: SCS Steel Container Systems Inc.
Location: Nanaimo, BC
It’s break time – 9:30 AM – and the crew files out of the warehouse building on the SCS Steel Container Systems Inc. property in Nanaimo, BC. Crysta Wilson flips her welding helmet up as she walks out, below the bold welding shop sign, talking with a co-worker and making her way to the office trailer.
SCS is a Canadian owned and operated manufacturer, providing a full range of steel container products including roll off containers, recycling containers, scrap containers, and more. The company has been operating for over 30 years. Crysta has been employed as a welder for a couple months, but it didn’t take the company or Crysta long to learn the fit was very right.
“We pride ourselves on productivity – it’s a tough group to get into. A good attitude and good work ethic are a big part of what we look for. Crysta’s doing a great job,” says AJ Hustins, General Manager of SCS.
Tradespeople have different stories to tell when it comes to their paths to skilled trades careers. Crysta’s starts with a trades sampler course where welding stood out as the winning trade choice for her.
“Welding has this component to it where it’s a physical skill – you’re learning how to master a craft. That’s what drew me towards it,” says Crysta.
Navigating the industry’s realities and rumours was another story. As a woman in the trades, Crysta heard about the challenges that she may face with an old school mentality. She also understood that welding work on Vancouver Island was very competitive, and job opportunities less available. The STEP team on Vancouver Island has noticed (as of the date of this post) that welding has become a very competitive trade in the region. Crysta stayed motivated and soon discovered these concerns were not her reality.
“I came in and handed my resume to AJ. He was like, ‘So, show up Tuesday!’ I was really happy with that,” says Crysta. “Coming into this atmosphere, people were so nice and supportive. No one really looks down on you, that you’re not capable. They’re really great about it.”
Before Crysta stepped into the SCS office to pass along her resume, she reached out to the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP).
“I went to university in Kamloops and I learned about STEP through my university. Because it’s a program that works with individual people, I didn’t get in touch until I moved to the island so the REPS here would have a relationship with me and help me find a job,” says Crysta.
STEP’s Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) Kelsey Botting provided Crysta with feedback on her resume along with interview tips and financial support for tools such as a leveling square, clamps, and a grinder. “The basic welding stuff that you don’t really think about until you go to work!” says Crysta.
“STEP really gave me the opportunity to go out and look for work. Coming out of school, I was nervous. It gave me confidence. Kelsey helped me go over my resume and made a list of places to go look at. Once I got the job, she made sure I had everything I needed to do the job competently,” says Crysta.
The work days at SCS are scheduled. Everything from the break period, emergency drill tests to all the projects in the shop cells have scheduled minutes. Productivity is strong and expectations are clear.
“One of the things I tell young people: we’re going to ask you to do some things you’re not trained to do. For Crysta Wilson, what she’s doing for us right now in the different cells, it’s mostly welding. She’s running from small parts to bins to components to doing assembly. She’s getting a lot of really, really good experience,” says AJ.
And it shows. Crysta is learning new skills to master her craft every day.
“My strength is my willingness to learn and the effort I put in. Right now, it’s not my physical skills, but I show up and I’m willing to learn,” says Crysta.
And just like that, the break’s over. It’s time to go back to the welding shop.
Interested in a career in the skilled trades? Connect with a STEP Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) today.
The STEP team has something to say.
Earlier last year, The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum – Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage (CAF-FCA) released its report on The Impact of Digital Technologies, Automation and Technological Change: Apprentice Perspectives.
Findings from the report were collected through survey results (online or in writing). Respondents came from all regions of Canada, the majority being Ontario and British Columbia.
Some of the survey questions looked to understand how a Smartphone is used by specific trades. Some results could be expected, such as 77% of respondents who identified as apprentices in the Carpenter, Electrician, Plumber, Pipefitter and Steamfitter trades stating they use their phones to find directions to the worksite. More interesting results showed those same trades ranking high when stating they look up codes and regulations on their phones or when looking to record work to show a supervisor. When asked if they used a Smartphone for diagnostic processes or finding user manuals/fault codes, respondents within those trades said they were less likely to reach for their phones.
Times are changing for the construction industry and its use of technology. In the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum report, there was talk about specific apps and how these may assist apprenticeship training. The practical questions still stand: Should apprentices be reaching for their Smartphones while working? Should that be stopped? Should that be encouraged?
Yes, technology can help make all kinds of work easier and faster, but it can also cause distraction and the fear of it slowly replacing essential, in-person training is real.
As STEP continues to work with youth-focused groups and continues be a strong advocate for apprenticeship training, ensuring development and growth within the BC construction industry, the team gives advice daily from cell phone use to resume writing tips and career coaching. Our Regional Employment Placement Specialists know the construction industry, how it has worked and how it’s working now. Here’s what the team had to say about apprentices with cell phones on the job:
“I always advise a participant to check with their employer about cell phone usage onsite. I recommend participants use their Smartphones for notes, calendars, maps/navigation. I talk to participants about technology being an essential skill in the workplace and always recommend upgrading if someone is lacking in digital literacy skills.”
– Sharon Miller, Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) in Kelowna
“Typically, I advise participants to leave their phones in their cars, unless their employer requests they have their phones on hand during work hours. Many employers do not tolerate a phone on the job site, siting safety concerns. Personal phone usage is for break time.”
– David Croteau, Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) in Kelowna
“When I was working in the industry, I actually liked workers having their phones on them. They had my number and I had most of theirs. It made communicating much easier. I also had apps on my phone for rules and regulations to help me do my job effectively. In my role now, I advise participants to stay off their phones and don’t recommend using it over talking with a more experienced worker. They will learn what is acceptable with their employer as they go.”
– Andraya Samborski, Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) in Abbotsford
“I have heard of employers getting their employees to use smartphones to track hours worked etc., and many of the job postings I see will say “Must have smartphone”. Using smartphones when you have been directed by the employer is fine. I would be concerned if any of my participants relied on YouTube or a Google search instead of asking a journeyperson on site. Codes/rules/regulations/etc. can differ greatly from place to place and this could certainly create issues. Too many people are quick to text or Google and avoid having an actual conversation with someone. There’s real value in asking someone to show you how to do something as you can ask more questions along the way and get direction as needed. When a more experienced worker teaches someone how to do a task, that more experienced worker will likely inspect the work that is done to ensure it’s correct. That’s important. I’ve had more than a few employers express their frustration with young workers and the fact that they “are always on their phones!”. I still advise participants to keep their phones in car. Texting, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. can wait until their break or when they’re done for the day.”
– Kyle Maggs, Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) in Vancouver
Employer: Sawchuk Developments
Location: Kelowna, BC
“I’ve been in Australia and New Zealand for the last couple years. I always wanted to come to Canada, so I came.”
Jamie Dickinson can make the journey to Canada sound simple, but the process, as most know, is anything but easy. Help and guidance along the way is necessary. For Jamie, with his background in carpentry, he found his way to the right contacts to ensure he was prepared for the Canadian workforce.
There are a couple key people who played helpful roles in Jamie’s Canadian employment story. Let’s start at the beginning, before Canada became a home, with Natalie Durham, an Employment Liaison from the BCCA Integrating Newcomers program. She started communicating with Jamie long before he stepped foot on Canadian ground.
The BCCA Integrating Newcomers program (BCCA-IN), managed by the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA), helps newcomers before they come to Canada to enter the construction workforce in British Columbia.
“One of our roles is to look at a client’s education and their credentials,” says Natalie. “My role with Jamie was really to provide him with information and resources to help with settlement. Once I knew he was a carpenter, I was able to provide him with information from the Industry Training Authority (ITA) and really encourage him to think about transferring his credentials over to Canadian ones. I also really just reassured him because the labour market in Kelowna and throughout the valley is booming.”
Given Natalie’s connection to BCCA, the next step was a natural connection. Jamie was “a perfect candidate” for the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP), a program also managed by the BCCA.
“The fortunate thing about him coming to Kelowna and us having the Skilled Trades Employment Program here is that I was able to connect him with one of the Regional Employment Placement Specialists, Sharon. Once he landed, that’s what we did,” says Natalie.
And that is the introduction to the next key helper in Jamie’s Canadian employment story, Sharon Miller, a Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) with STEP. STEP has been connecting motivated, trained, ready-to-work candidates to construction employers in BC since 2006.
“Natalie and I have worked pretty closely in the past together with the new immigrants who are arriving and looking for work in the construction trades. It was a no brainer that Natalie would refer Jamie to STEP with his construction and his carpentry background.” says Sharon.
Jamie also helped himself, bringing a strong determination and making big goals. When he landed in Canada, he was focused on working as quickly as possible and set a one week timeline to make it happen. Thanks to the high demand for skilled workers in BC and across Canada, along with the valley’s booming construction work and Jamie’s skill level, his goal proved to be realistic.
In order to get to work, Jamie had to re-stock his work equipment. STEP could help with that, too. He received a new pair of work boots and PPE, along with new tools of the trade so he could get started on a job immediately.
“We got him a job within a week. Okay, maybe a week and a half, but it was pretty quick and painless for him. I’m so pleased about that,” says Sharon.
And that leads to the next major player here: Jamie’s employer. Sharon connected with Shane Mosley, the Manager of Human Resources with Sawchuk Developments, to hand him Jamie’s resume. She had a feeling it could be a fit, and she was right.
“The skill level Jamie brings is important to us in the finishing end which is what we’re doing in this particular job where he’s working,” says Shane.
Construction employers continue to feel the stress of the skilled trades shortage, and STEP is focused on making the right connections for employers and job seekers to build a strong, vibrant BC construction industry.
“This year with the shortage of trades people we reached out to STEP and met with Sharon. Sharon was great. She interviewed me and wanted to know what our needs were. She shared with me the opportunities she was getting of workers coming in through her, including Jamie,” says Shane.
If you’re an employer or a job seeker, take tips from Jamie’s experience and talk to the STEP team. If you’re planning to move to Canada and have construction experience, talk to the BCCA-IN team. These are connections that can help make the journey to employment easier, at no cost.
“STEP gave us a good candidate. I would recommend it for others as well. I think it’s a good opportunity to get some skills into the organization,” says Shane.
Trade: Apprentice Electricians
Employer: Keldon Electric Ltd.
Location: Kelowna, BC
At the Keldon Electric office in Kelowna, British Columbia, there are a couple things you’re guaranteed to find on any given work day. Birk Hoehn, the Human Resources Manager, will be in his office that has earned the nickname “The Bat Cave” as Keldon’s central control room. A driver will be loading the company truck with equipment and materials for the crews out on sites. And Sparky, the stray cat who found a day-time home in the Keldon workshop, will come to say a timid hello to staff and visitors.
Keldon Electric has been serving the Okanagan Valley and all of British Columbia for over 30 years. Today, they employ 44 apprentices between two offices in Kelowna and Penticton. Brett Halston and Josh Pavlakovic are two of those apprentices, and they are also STEP participants.
Brett is a Third Year Apprentice Electrician, currently working as a driver. Josh is a Second Year Apprentice Electrician, currently attending Okanagan College for his in-class training. Their journey to the trades is similar, a more common story for tradespeople.
“I was first intrigued with the trade because my grandfather was an electrician, so I thought I’d explore the trade and found out I enjoy the type of work it involves,” says Josh
“I have a lot of family in the trades and they steered me towards an electrician,” says Brett.
While family ties guided them to their trade, it would be the STEP team that guided them to an employer and apprenticeships – their futures in the trades.
“I became connected with STEP when they came into our classroom one day to speak about their services. They were able to help me find work with Keldon Electric and helped set me up with courses. For me personally, STEP helped get me in a First Aid Course and a CSTS construction safety course,” says Josh.
While STEP can assist with employer connections, the team can also provide those extra supports and benefits, such as short-term tickets and tools, along with pre-employment and post employment tips to ensure a job seeker is ready to work and set up for success.
“STEP helped me write my resume and connected me with Keldon Electric. They got me an interview and they helped me buy tools,” says Brett. “I’d recommend STEP, there’s no downside.”
The STEP team works hard to develop and maintain strong relationships with the construction employers in their communities. The Regional Employment Placement Specialists (REPS) are part of the construction industry and understand how it works.
“We have very good relationships with employers and the training institutes. We know what’s hot and what’s not. We’re on the front lines,” says David Croteau, STEP REPS in Kelowna.
This ensures job seekers are connected to the employer and the trade that is the right fit. A job seeker can receive one-on-one career development advice from the REPS that’s specific to the construction industry and the community they live in.
For Josh and Brett, they’re thankful to STEP for the guidance and employer connection.
“Keldon Electric is great. They offer a variety of work which is great as an apprentice. I’m still figuring out what I like and don’t really like and where I want to settle in the field. It’s great to start out in and try a lot of different opportunities and sites,” says Josh.
“Keldon is a great company to work for, they’ve kept me employed for the year and a half. No complaints,” says Brett.
As for Birk in “The Bat Cave”, he speaks with pride about Keldon’s apprentices. He understands how important it is to support the next generation of tradespeople.
“It’s such a successful, satisfying feeling to have a worker come in, new and fresh, and see the development and maturity that they have within the trade. Then with the steady employment, and they set up a family – house and home – it’s really a success and development,” says Birk.
Given the current skilled labour shortage in British Columbia, with 11,700 construction jobs expected to be unfilled due to labour shortage by 2027, STEP understands the importance of apprenticeships and remains committed to building BC’s construction workforce.
“The sky’s the limit. The sky’s the limit once they get enrolled into an apprenticeship and see it through,” says David Croteau, STEP REPS.
And that’s a guarantee because a completed apprenticeship earns a Red Seal, and as Birk says, that’s “a ticket to life”.
Trade: Security Systems Technician Apprentice / Construction Electrician Apprentice
Employer: Pacificom Integration
Location: White Rock, BC
A good attitude. Strong listening skills. The ability to take direction.
Three ways Parve Mohsenipour, foreman with Pacificom Integrations, describes Pacificom’s Security Systems Technician/Construction Electrician Apprentice, Weiny Nong.
“She’s always trying to step ahead of the task she’s assigned to. She stays ahead of the game,” says Parve.
Weiny’s work ethic and dedication could be attributed to the fact that she knows what she wants. She wanted a career in the trades. She worked hard to get there, and she plans to work even harder while she’s here.
“For myself, I knew I wanted to get into the trades. I was very specific about what I wanted to get into,” says Weiny. “I got exactly what I was looking for with STEP – my case was very specific. My STEP REPS was amazing. He helped me through a lot. I was able to touch up my resume and find an employer that has my needs and I have what they need.”
The case was unique, so STEP’s Regional Employment Placement Specialist (REPS) Kyle worked with his connections to find the right fit. Weiny knew her path would be in the electrical trade. Coming from Ontario, Weiny had completed an electrical training course years before, but had never had the opportunity to work in the trade.
“That can make it difficult to find work in a competitive trade, and electrical is the most competitive,” says Kyle. “The other issue was her out-of-province training was not ITA accredited. This meant it may or may not count for a Level 1 of the technical training.”
Kyle had been in touch with Pacificom Integration weeks before meeting Weiny. He knew they were looking to hire but struggling to fill positions for the security/data & communications team. This shortage of hires had increased the starting wages and Kyle knew it was a good opportunity.
“Security Systems Technician is an ITA recognized trade. SST/data & communications are similar to the electrical trade. They have a lot of overlapping training. I had a good feeling about it, so I asked Weiny if she was interested and she was,” says Kyle.
Pacificom Integration welcomed the opportunity to sponsor Weiny as a Security Systems Technician Apprentice while also sharing her work with the electrical division when needed.
“This would allow her to learn both trades,” says Kyle. And learning both trades keeps Weiny busy and driven – just the way she likes it.
“It’s a combination of using your brains and the physicality of it. You’re learning something new every day. There’s no shortage of work, let’s say that. It’s exciting. It’s something that drives me to be a better worker,” says Weiny.
It wasn’t long before Pacificom Integration sponsored Weiny as a Construction Electrician Apprentice too.
Weiny is thankful to STEP for finding the opportunity with Pacificom Integration and setting her up for success with the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and tools to ensure she was job-ready from day one.
When giving guidance to others, Weiny has three pieces of advice: “Thanks to STEP, I was able to hit the ground running with Pacificom and here I am. I’m doing what I wanted to do. I would tell others: Do your best. You’re smarter than you know. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.”
Employer: Max Ignatiuk, IGN Systems
Location: Mission, BC
Crystine found welding online.
“I had kids and by the time I was 23, I had decided that I really just needed to pick something. I went online to the UFV website and looked at all the trades. Welding looked like the most fun. I’d never done it before, I’d never seen it done. I just decided that’s what I was going to do.”
She took a chance, made the decision to become a welder and stuck with it. That decision has guided her to a welding career that she loves, in the town she calls home, with her kids 8 minutes down the road from her workshop.
“As a mom, and I’m also the primary provider for my children, it was really important for me to find a job that was understanding and would be a really good fit. I do have to take care of my kids sometimes. Max is so great about the family stuff. He lets me make up the time and he knows I’m dedicated to the job.”
Crystine’s journey from school to welding at IGN Systems had a lot to do with STEP and her STEP Regional Employment Placement Specialist, Isabel. From resume writing to interview skills and financial support for equipment, “Isabel really just set me up for success,” says Crystine.
“Isabel from STEP showed me a lot of improvements on that. Just really selling my skills. I don’t like to talk about myself very much, so when you’re writing a resume sometimes it’s hard to be like ‘Yeah! I’m so fantastic, I’m so great!’ Isabel just showed me how to sell myself.”
STEP helped prepare Crystine for her job search and interviews. Isabel also helped find Crystine the job with Max at IGN Systems.
“She’s the one who set me up with this job. I would have never known that this was here. Max doesn’t really put out there when he needs welders so Isabel is actually the one who put me in touch with Max and this job.”
Moving into a new career can bring a lot of unknowns. Crystine had her concerns. “My biggest fear when looking for work was not finding something stable. I do have that extra worry about taking care of my kids and providing for them. Isabel finding me this welding job was just a godsend, really.”
As for the future, Isabel is still helping Crystine. Crystine has plans to one day get her B pressure ticket and become a journeyperson, but she’s not rushing anything.
“For now I’m just focused on doing a good job here and providing for my kids.”
As for recommending others to STEP?
“Oh, 100 per cent, I tell everyone that they need to go through STEP. I wouldn’t have found this job if it wasn’t for them and I love it here so I want everyone to go through the STEP program.”
Trade: Apprentice Joiner
Location: Sidney, BC
“One of the best things about being a joiner is that every day is completely different. It’s everything from pulling out windows to scraping and sanding a teak deck to repairing a priceless piece of art,” says Charles Edmonds, an apprentice joiner at Philbrook’s Boatyard on Vancouver Island.
Charles connected with his joiner apprenticeship through STEP.
“The joiner work is weeks of planning and preparation, making templates and milling timber – and then all of a sudden it’s all done and in place – and it looks glorious. That feeling is what drives me to be a tradesman. It’s seeing something all the way through to completion; a wonderful feeling to use your hands and bring something into the world.”
After running his own business doing woodworking and carpentry for several years, Charles found himself losing interest. “I was working for myself and that’s a hard go; you need to find a niche,” notes Charles. “I wasn’t enjoying it too much anymore. I was starting to resent the work because of the administrative stresses.”
Charles chose to move on from his business and found himself in the midst of a frustrating job hunt, not sure where to go next. His existing abilities set him apart from the pack, and some lucky timing presented an opportunity. STEP was contacted by Philbrook’s Boatyard: they were seeking a woodworker with a high level of skill and training who lived in the area. Charles’ name came up when STEP reached out to Camosun College as part of their search.
“It was the perfect thing at the perfect moment,” says Charles, with the smile on his face saying a great deal. “Someone came and said ‘There’s a joiner job… are you interested?’. And yes, I was.”
Charles describes the process as seamless.
STEP was able to connect Charles with the job opportunity, arranging an interview at Philbrooks. When he was hired, STEP supplied work boots and a set of tools which Charles (then unemployed) would have had a hard time purchasing.” It was no strings attached. That was the greatest thing. It’s such a relief, too. When you are looking for a job or a career, it’s a nervous time. You’re not quite sure; it’s all very uncertain. Then suddenly – something is available.”
“This didn’t cost me anything. It put things into my pocket, which was great.”
Charles is about halfway through his apprenticeship, and has set his eye on a Red Seal ticket, which he hopes to complete entirely through Philbrook’s Boatyard.
“First and foremost is to finish the apprenticeship. I really want to see that through to the end. Philbrook’s gets a few more years of high-quality work at the very least, and if things go well I could be here for the rest of my life. And if not? I’ve taken a big step forward towards what I want to do, and there are lots of other options for someone with a ticket.”
Trade: Apprentice Sheet Metal Worker
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
After some good-natured heckling from his co-workers about ‘getting ready for his close-up’, we set off to talk with Aaron, to find out more about his experience with STEP and his new career path as a sheet metal worker.
It’s clear from the warm smile on his face and his positive energy that Aaron likes his work as a first year apprentice sheet metal worker. “It’s interesting. And it’s challenging, which I really enjoy. Each day seems to bring something different – I like it, and I think it’s going to be a good career move.”
Aaron is part of a six-person crew, arriving on site at 7 am to begin each day. He says he is pleasantly surprised by how much of his work requires close collaboration with the other trades on the job site, he nevertheless is happy to be in the sheet metal trade.
“I like working with my hands, being able to build things. Before I started here, I was working with a small construction company as a general labourer. Before that, I was installing office furniture in government buildings. I wanted to get into the trades and onto a better career path, and sheet metal worker was high up on my list… so I’m really happy to be doing this.”
Pausing for a minute to brush some site dirt off his pant leg, Aaron reflects on the role STEP has played for him.
I was at the point where I knew I wasn’t going to go any further at my other jobs. STEP made it possible for me to give it a shot, to try to improve my situation. STEP is there to help and it’s absolutely a tool that you can use to help you achieve your goals.
Aaron is a husband and father with two young daughters at home. He says that responsibility continues to be a big part of his motivation for developing his skills and improving his earning potential.
Aaron has a plan and knows what’s in front of him. Aaron isn’t the only family member pleased with the change. He tells us his wife is very supportive, though the first year has put some financial strains on their household. “She can see that I enjoy my job, and that in the long run it’s definitely going to pay off.”
“I think it’s going to provide a much better life for both of my girls. That’s something I’m really excited about as well.”
“My ultimate goal is to become a journeyman, which should take me approximately four years,” explains Aaron. “At that point I’ll be able to make a good living doing this, and I already know I enjoy the job.”
The ultimate test of how much you really like something is whether you’re willing to recommend it to others, and when we ask Aaron if he’s comfortable recommending STEP he doesn’t hesitate.
“Yes. I’ve already recommended STEP to a friend of mine. It’s a great program. It’s been a tremendous experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to make a change and improve their life,” says Aaron.
When asked if he has any special advice, Aaron doesn’t sugar coat.
“It’s so tough to take that first step, to just really put yourself out there,” he admits. “So my advice is to give it a shot. It’s gonna be hard. But it’s totally worth it. STEP is here to help and it’s something I’m very grateful for.”
We had to let Aaron get back to work. Watching him enter the job site and crunch over a hill of gravel in his steel-toed boots, more than one of us – preparing to head back to our office cubicles – was wondering if maybe the trades might be right for us too.