The Centre's three-year program is geared to making its graduates knowledgeable about the many different aspects of the pile driving industry
By Lisa Kopochinski
Although the Western Canada Piledrivers Training Centre is relatively new – it opened in 2009 – the program boasts an impressive success rate with 95 per cent of its students graduating.
When asked what has contributed to its success, Kurt Kashuba, organizer for the Pile Drivers, Divers, Bridge, Dock and Wharf Builders Local 2404 Union in Delta, which operates the Western Canada Piledrivers Training Centre, says pile driving is simply a passion – for the instructors and the apprentices.
“It’s a very specialized industry that apprentices view as a career that requires becoming qualified and achieving and possessing valid tickets and certifications at all times,” said Kashuba. “Apprentices realize that, as journeypersons, they must keep upgrading their skills. Training and safety is instilled as the culture of the piling industry if one wishes to be successful.”
Through the Centre, Local 2404 has the only Industry Training Authority (ITA) designated program in Canada. The ITA leads and coordinates British Columbia’s skilled trades system and works with employers, employees, industry, labour, training providers and government to issue credentials, supports apprenticeships, fund programs, set program standards and increase opportunities in the trades.
The Western Canada Piledrivers Training Centre’s three-year program includes 18 weeks of in-school training and a minimum 3,600 field hours. Apprentices who successfully complete the program receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship and Certificate of Qualification in Pile Driver/Bridgeworker from the province of British Columbia.
“On average, our class sizes range from 12 to 18 students, and we have 16 graduates each year,” said Kashuba. “Our course material was developed by subject matter experts from the industry who made up a committee. Certain training material and curriculum was also developed by subject matter experts at the Carpenters International Training Fund.”
During the three-year program (which costs $3,000), students learn a wide range of skills that successfully prepare them for a career in the pile driving industry. The skills and information covered include the following:
- Applying safe work practices
- Documentation and organizational skills
- Use of tools and equipment, survey instruments and other leveling and measuring techniques
- Access, rigging and hoisting equipment
- Performing site layout
- Building concrete formwork
- Marine work procedures
- Pile and foundation procedures
- Building with timber and steel
- Installing, repairing and maintaining bridge ramps and marine structures
- Tickets and certifications that apprentices achieve include:
- Chainsaw Course
- Level 1 First Aid
- Confined Space Awareness
- Punt Work Boat Training
- Certified Rigger and Signaler Program (40 hours)
- Aerial Work Platform
- Class V and VII Forklift
- Fall Protection
“We also have 10 welding booths and do Canadian Welding Bureau testing every two weeks,” said Kashuba. “Upon successful completion of the program, students achieve their Certificate of Apprenticeship and Certificate of Qualification in the trade of pile driver and bridgeworker issued by the Province of British Columbia.”
The program involves both in-class and field learning.
“Each level includes six weeks at the training centre and 1,200 hours in the field as an apprentice,” said Kashuba. “The six weeks of an apprenticeship level includes class time and shop project time. Online learning is reserved for select tickets such as WHMIS 2015, CSTS-09 and Pleasure Craft Operator.”
Casey Nichols is one of two instructors at the Centre. While he has only been teaching at the Centre for the past five years, he has been teaching in the field for many years as a journeyman/foreman, showing younger, inexperienced workers safe and productive methods.
“A lot of people said I had the aptitude and patience to mentor the apprentices,” said Nichols. “When the opportunity presented itself to become an instructor, I took it. After five years and much training, I hold credentials from Penn State University and the International Carpenters Union academic department. What I like the most about being an instructor is giving back to an organization that has been great to me since I joined them 33 years ago.”
Patrick Fahey and Nick Johnson are both graduates of the program and cannot say enough positive things about what they have learned and the opportunities it offers.
“I was working at the time in a welding shop, barely squeaking by,” said Johnson, 37, who is originally from Williams Lake, but now lives in Coquitlam, B.C. “I was looking to get back into the industrial side of welding. I went down to the Piledriving Union Hall and spoke to my father’s childhood buddy, who explained what the job entailed. But it wasn’t until I was actually hired that I knew what this career actually was. After that, I had to pursue it!”
Johnson says the instructors taught him many of the smaller details that would be encountered in the work field.
“The instructors, Casey Nichols and Steve Reid, did an amazing job showing us these things. They both understood – being field guys themselves – that we were more hands-on learners than focusing on the bookwork side of things. For me, that really helped. I come from a welding/millwright background, so having a program that caters to the newbies and the guys that have been around a while was definitely a plus.”
Fahey says he entered the three-year program to obtain as much knowledge about the trade as soon as possible and to become more employable.
“In the program, we focused on all parts of the trade – from labour intensive work all the way to bidding and winning our own job contracts,” he said. “We also heavily focused on rigging, which is a huge part of what we do and my favourite part of the trade.”
He adds that it is easy to become overwhelmed with the process, but found the instructors very accommodating and knowledgeable.
“This eases you into the program. However, the course is no cakewalk – especially in the third-year program – where to get through it you need a lot of experience and knowledge as well as study time. I went into it knowing that being the youngest and inexperienced, I would need to work and study twice as hard, but thanks to my classmates and teachers, I got through it. Now I am confident that I can go out into the field and greatly contribute to the long and sometimes difficult process of pile driving.”
While the journey was difficult, Fahey, who is 23 and from Campbell River, says he would absolutely recommend this program to others.
“While it’s true you can learn a lot on the job, you can learn much more in the classroom with the very knowledgeable and experienced teaching staff. Another great reason to go through the program is the certified tickets you receive along the way. For instance, in the third-year program, I received six tickets – not including my journeyman ticket. In the next two to five years, I hope to be in a foreman position, working my way up the ladder and being known for doing safe, efficient and good work.”
Johnson agrees and added, “I’d definitely recommend this program. It’s a kind of jack-of-all-trades job, but in the program you get to slowly learn the ins and outs of this trade so you are not walking blind [into a jobsite].”