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Local Companies and Union Start New Program to Keep Young Welders Close to Home

Tara Ivey
Tara Ivey, second from the right, is one of 10 recent graduates in a new apprenticeship program. Image: Mark Leger/Huddle Today

Tara Ivey had built a nice life for herself in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The 24-year-old started in a security job, but saw other women working in male-dominated trades. So she got her Class 3 truck-driving license and eventually landed a job driving a dump truck for a road construction company that laid pipelines, water lines and storm lines.

But ultimately Ivey wanted to come to New Brunswick. “It slowed down a lot [in Alberta] in the last couple of years, and I wanted to be closer to my family,” she said. “I’d been away a long time and I’m really close to my brothers and sisters.”

Ivey applied and was accepted to the welding program at the New Brunswick Community College in St. Andrews, so she returned home and graduated from the school this June. She has now been chosen for a new pilot apprenticeship program organized by UA Canada, Irving Oil and the National Association of Union Schools & Colleges.

The 10 recent welding graduates in the the Regional Education Welder Apprenticeship Retention and Development program (REWARD) will spend three years training and working on projects at the Irving Oil refinery, as part of contracts being fulfilled by Jacobs and Lorneville Mechanical.

David Simon, Manager of Turnarounds and Construction at the Irving Oil refinery, said the welding graduates will be matched up with journeymen and go through the standard apprenticeship program. They will also do training sessions on Friday afternoons at the UA office in Lorneville, and continue to do coursework in welding theory at the community college.

Simon said this program is novel because of the collaboration between the organizations and companies with a stake in a well-trained workforce.

“There’s now a program in place that’s forcing the employer, the contractors and the unions to work together to develop the skilled workers for the future,” he said.

Simon said this is a necessary strategy because fewer young people are being encouraged to go into the trades. At the same time, the province is facing a shortfall in workers down the road as older ones leave the industries that employ tradespeople.

“There’s been a shift away from the skilled trades. As kids come out of school, they’re being pushed toward universities,”  said Simon, who took part in the program launch Wednesday at the UA office in Lorneville.

“Over time, the available supply of workers is going down. The demographic projections over the next five years show us that there’s going to be a dramatic increase due to retirements in the order of 25 percent. Those positions will need to be filled. Without a program in place it won’t happen naturally.”

Ivey enjoys the work and finds it rewarding. “It’s fun, but it’s hot,” she said, laughing.

“I’m really particular about where things go. It has to look a certain way. I’m really into the detail of everything. I like trying to do better each time.”

She also went back to school because she knew the industry had a need for new workers. “I realized I had better chances to work here or in another province if I had a trade,” she said.

Most heartening for Simon and the other partners in the program, she wants to stay here, rather than employ her new skill set out west.

“I want to work in New Brunswick,” she said. “I don’t want to leave here again.”