April 26, 2023

THE BC INSULATORS UNION Local 118 has a brand new home. And it was a long time coming.

After moving from the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT), to sharing a facility with the United Association Piping Industry College (UAPIC), the Insulators are now settling into their very own, 5,000-square-foot facility in Port Coquitlam.

STATE-OF-THE-ART The BC Insulators’ new home in Port Coquitlam.

STATE-OF-THE-ART The BC Insulators’ new home in Port Coquitlam.

The unassuming slate-blue entrance in a new industrial park just on the northwest side of the Pitt River Bridge opens into a fairly standard office space. But walk down the hall through another set of doors to the back of the building, and that’s where the magic happens.

This is where the Insulators Union will train its next generation of highly skilled tradespeople.

The training space has a fully outfitted sheet metal fabrication machine shop with slip rollers, bench brake machines, hand rotary machines and multiple cutting machines. Students can work and learn at individual installation stations for piping, ducting and equipment. When you add all of that to an adjoining formal classroom setting, the union has built a welcoming, state-of-the-art spot to set down roots and develop new apprentices.

Apprentices like Cindy Santin, 51, who moved to B.C. from Windsor, Ont., two years ago to pursue her career in the skilled trades.

“I didn’t realize what all goes into insulating or why things need to be insulated. I also didn’t realize this is a Red Seal trade,” said Santin. “I still can’t believe I’m in a classroom, it’s been over 30 years! I’m going to take this as far as I can go which means getting my Red Seal and becoming a journeyperson.”

Santin is flourishing in her second year of apprenticeship now taking place in the new training centre.

“I want to learn how to insulate with all the materials the trade has to offer, this way I can become a good mentor for the younger generation,” she said. “I’m 51 years old and I want other people to know that no matter how old you are, or what obstacles are in your way, if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything.”

Second-year apprentice Almer Yap has also thoroughly enjoyed his time in the new training centre.

“It’s awesome. It’s fresh,” he said. “It motivated me more to do the best that I could do.”

The 31-year-old from Surrey said he chose the insulating trade because he wants to build a career based on the highly developed set of skills he’s earning as an apprentice.

“I want to get my Red Seal because, in this trade, I feel like every day I’m making craftsmanship,” he said.

Trainer Rob Sheck now calls the training centre home. He stressed the importance of having a dedicated space so that apprentices and their journeyperson mentors can go on to long-lasting careers.

“Education is key. Training on the job, on the technical side and the practical side, just makes for a good, strong, highly skilled tradesperson,” Sheck said. “Especially when it’s at our school, in our own dedicated facility.”

The union celebrated the opening of its Port Coquitlam training centre in January with an open house that was attended by B.C. Ministers of State Andrew Mercier and Dan Coulter, Liberal MP John Aldag, BC Building Trades president Al Phillips and executive director Brynn Bourke, and BC Federation of Labour president Sussanne Skidmore.

BC Insulators business manager Neil Munro explained how controlling its own space will allow the union training centre to better control its own destiny.

“It allows us to do the Red Seal training that is our core delivery and also to upgrade training and specialized training and introductory training through partnerships with the B.C. Centre for Women in the Trades and the Métis Federation,” Munro said.

Financially, it is a better deal for the union and the training centre. “We were renting space from BCIT. They were getting all the money through the Industry Training Authority [ITA]. They had a pretty sweet deal,” he said.

The ITA (now SkilledTradesBC) named Insulators Local 118’s training society its designated apprenticeship service provider back in 2021. “It helps build our credibility with the open-shop contractors. They see the value we are providing with our apprentices. We manage the whole system,” Munro said.

Running the training centre, as well as the health and welfare, and pension programs for members shows how working with the union can benefit employers. Insulators are now better able to meet the challenges of training qualified workers during an acute labour shortage.

“It allows us to deliver the full, comprehensive Red Seal program and any type of specialized training that we want to do above that,” Munro said. “We control our own space and we are more in control of our own destiny. We are not worrying about what BCIT is going to do next.”

Minister of State for Workforce Development Andrew Mercier said there is an urgent need to train workers to keep up with rapidly changing technologies and evolving industry standards.

“The great new space gives more people access to the training and the experience they need to secure rewarding, good-paying jobs,” Mercier said.

“The school gives practical, hands-on experience to the next generation of insulation apprentices with support from professionals in the sector. There’s a whole world of opportunity in the trades and now more people can access training in their community.”

By David Hogben