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L-359 overcomes pandemic recruiting challenges

I know what the future for the trade is in B.C., and it is important that we continue providing those opportunities for people.

Gord Weel, Local 359 training coordinator

Students attending L-359 Foundation class at BCIT are, from l. to r., Cameron Zubot, Gianna Badesso, instructor Russ Osborne, Lu Greig, Kasey Bathgate, Troy Chartrand, L-359 training coordinator Gord Weel, Eric Butterworth, Chris Henriques and Alexi Legebokoff.

Boilermaker work opportunities in British Columbia are growing, so the need to add more apprentices to Local 359 (Vancouver, British Columbia) is imperative. However, pandemic restrictions have stymied efforts to increase the number of apprentices in the lodge. The government-owned British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby hosts training for the Boilermakers but closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s at BCIT that pre-apprentices take their foundation class.

“Foundation” is a term the post-secondary system in British Columbia uses for entry level or first level classes. To start any apprenticeship, the class is a requirement. It’s also the first step on a path to earn the coveted Red Seal in Canada.

Local 359 has required the 23-week foundation program to enter its apprenticeship program since 1962, and with BCIT closed, no new apprentices were able to indenture.

To solve the problem, L-359’s training coordinator Gord Weel approached BCIT and offered to host the class at the lodge’s Joe Kiwior and Ivan Shook Training Centre in Langley. He proposed teaching a class with just eight students, half the normal 16, to make it safer for students and instructors. After a review and assurances from Boilermakers that they’d strictly follow the institute’s COVID-19 safety procedures, BCIT agreed to allow the training to take place under the institute’s mantle.

Russ Osborne, a BCIT Boilermaker instructor and longtime L-359 member is conducting the training. L-359’s Roger Prior is also instructing. One of the first things Osborne did was set up the classroom at the center strictly following BCIT’s COVID-19 procedures. Each student was assigned their own desk, chair, toolbox, welding booth and oxy-fuel cutting setup. The students and instructors are keeping a distance of six feet apart and wearing masks when required.

“The training for the Boilermaker trade opens doors for everyone,” Weel said. “I know what the future for the trade is in B.C., and it is important that we continue providing those opportunities for people.”

Weel said that with the continued demand for workers in British Columbia, Boilermakers are being resourceful as they move forward with training, despite a worldwide pandemic. Past recruitment drives and partnerships with BCIT led to full classes, helping to ensure that the Boilermaker trade is successful well into the future.