The Proof Is in the Metal
The instructors at CLAC Training's welding shop are changing lives. Their graduates are changing Canada's landscape
DANICA MANLEY WAS AN ART KID in high school—until she enrolled
in shop class.
“I had nothing to do with the trades at all until grade 11,” says Danica,
a petite high-school graduate wearing Carhartts. “I was very much an art student. I did drama and music too. In my grade 11 art class, I decided
to do a sculpture project in our school’s shop because I wanted to try something different.”
That shop class, which was run through CLAC Training’s high school initiative, changed Danica’s career path.
“When I finally got down into the shop, after taking all these safety courses, I really enjoyed how people worked with each other. It just made a lot of sense the way they did things.”
Now a first-year apprentice welder working at CLAC’s Edmonton welding shop, Danica is part of the crew that prepares coupons, which clients use to practice and test on. At the end of every day, she gets practice time and help from the CLAC instructors, and she is now looking forward to eventually becoming a journeyperson.
DANICA IS ONE OF THE many people whose career paths, and lives,
have changed with the help of CLAC’s training programs, particularly its welding program. With thousands of people coming through the doors of
the Edmonton welding shop each year, instructors have no shortage of stories to tell about people who get the training they need to land the job—and career—they want.
“The most rewarding aspect of any job is when you can help somebody out,” says Tedd Gunn, one of the welding instructors. “And I get the chance to do
it every day. Some days, certain people touch you in a special way, and I feel like I need to go that extra mile to help them.
“I’m happiest when I’m in the booth welding with somebody. The biggest reward at the end of the day is when somebody says thank you. That means more than anything.”
There’s no doubt Tedd is passionate about his work, and every student who works with him knows it and reaps the benefits.
People like Scott Carr, who currently works for Kiewit in its Edmonton modular yard constructing structures for the oilsands. He first came into contact with CLAC’s welding shop several years ago.
“A job came up and the employer said that if I got the flux cored ticket, I’d get the job,” says Scott. “I thought, oh crap, I haven't done flux cored in seven or eight years. What do I do now? So I came here. Tedd watched me practice and came over and said, ‘You understand it but need it tweaked a little bit.’ So he helped me for about a week and a half until I got it.”
Scott went on to get his ticket—and the job.
TO THE UNINITIATED, WELDING MAY seem simple. You have a rod and it melts metal together. But ask anyone in the business and you’ll see it’s a lot more complex than that. There are many different types of welding, many different metals—some of which don’t bind together—and many different certifications needed to work in various environments.
“Anybody can weld two pieces of metal together,” says Jonathan McDougal, a client at the welding shop. “But it might look like garbage and cost a lot—it might warp and bend. If you do it right, then it lasts forever.”
Jonathan is a regular at the welding shop
and at the CLAC health and safety classes. While he completed his welding apprenticeship years ago, before he entered the Canadian Armed Forces, he had not become a Red Seal journeyman.
“When I was growing up, I always wanted to join the military,” he says. “But before I did, my dad said I had to pick a trade because that’s what I’d fall back on. While I was in the reserves, I did my welding apprenticeship. Then
I joined the forces and did 12 years there.
“I’ve been deployed to Afghanistan twice, where I was in tanks. We had a welder with us, but when he was busy, I fabricated small
things to make my vehicle and other ones a little bit more comfortable.”
When Jonathan received a medical discharge from the military, he decided to get back into welding.
“I started off at CLAC Training with first aid, renewed my WHMIS, and then started renewing all my CWB tickets,” he says. “Then I wanted to write my Red Seal since I hadn't touched the books in 12 years. I used the prep course here, and wrote that successfully.”
And Jonathan isn’t stopping there.
“I’m working on getting my welding inspector tickets, because who wants to weld when you’re 50?”
THE BEAUTY OF A CAREER in welding is that it fits well with other trades, and there is room to expand and shift your career to suit your lifestyle and age.
“Welding is the one trade that you need that helps every other trade out there,” says Scott. “Pipefitter, you need a welder to do the pipes. Structural, you need a welder to weld everything together. Electrical, you can only bond and bolt so much; you need a welder.”
With its diverse offerings and support, many people are continuing to visit the CLAC welding shop to upgrade their skills, even in the midst of the economic downturn. Many welders are also multiticketed. Like Darren Topliss, a self-employed rig welder who has visited the CLAC shop for a number of courses, is currently duel-ticketed, and hopes to pick up his third ticket—millwrighting—very soon.
“I believe trades are the way to go,” says Darren. “The more you can learn, the better. My motto in life is never stop learning.”
With the ever-changing economy, it’s good to have a diverse skill-set to fall back on during tough times. And as Jonathan says, many journeypersons don’t want to be welding in the field past a certain age. Some become inspectors, and a few become examiners or instructors.
Curtis Dahl, CLAC’s welding manager, knows this from personal experience.
He began his career as a welder before moving into inspection and then instruction. He approached the Codes and Standards Training Institute (CASTI), the company certified to offer inspector courses, and asked it to partner with CLAC to provide courses. Last year, 40 students went through the courses to advance their careers and reach their goals.
TRAINING IN THE SKILLED TRADES takes hours of practice, trial and failure, and persistence. But the end result is the skill-set needed to produce excellent work and a great career, with many opportunities.
For Danica, Scott, Jonathan, Darren, and the thousands of other students who come to the CLAC welding shop, their sense of pride
and accomplishment comes from the excellent
product that they can now produce, and
the well-paying career they can live out.
“In welding, there is one incontestable truth,”
says Danica. “If you put in the effort, and if
you work at it, your product is right in front
of you. No one can take that away from you.
The proof is in the metal.”
For Tedd, Curtis, and the other CLAC instructors,
their pride is in seeing the students they
teach excel in their careers and lives.
“I’ve had welders come back two or three
years down the road bring me a gift,” says
Curtis. “They say, ‘You’ve made such a huge
difference in my life.’ That’s so gratifying.
No money can top that.”
In the Beginning. . .
It all started with a course called Computers for the Completely Terrified. The year was 1995, and computers were invading workplaces—regardless of what sector—en masse. Companies began laying off workers who were over the age of 50, and then hiring 25-30-year-olds in their place.
Co Vanderlaan, a CLAC representative and Edmonton director, now retired, had embarked on a five-week side project to see how CLAC could add value for its members. He saw a hole in the training available to workers.
So he worked to set up what is now CLAC Training. With the cooperation of three signatory companies—Ledcor, Save-On-Foods, and Midwest Pipelines—he set up a training fund that could be used to train their workers. They started contributing 10 cents per hour worked for everyone in the unit, and by the end of the following year, CLAC began offering training for their employees.
At the same time, Co began looking to offer courses to the public, particularly to help them deal with mass computerization.
“We got volunteers from the community to run Computers for the Completely Terrified. We had students ranging from 15- to 70-years-old. The program taught them how to type a document and print it. That’s all. The whole idea was you’ve got to stop being afraid of the computer—it isn't going to bite you. If you can type a letter on it and you know how to print it, then all of a sudden you know it does what you tell it to do. And that was hugely successful.”
But the big training win was purchasing the rights to the Construction Safety Training System (CSTS) when it first came to Canada. CSTS is a general safety awareness program for workers in the construction industry.
“CSTS was the first computer-based learning system, and we bought a license for Alberta and for CLAC members in all of Canada,” says Co. “We had people coming from all over taking the course. And that really gave us a lot of credibility within the community and also with government and industry.”
CSTS is still one of CLAC’s top courses, with over 20,000 taking it with CLAC in the last three years alone.
With the success of CLAC Training in Alberta, CLAC opened training programs in its other provinces. Today, over 60,000 workers visit CLAC Training’s facilities each year to take courses in anything from welding to first aid to labour relations. Not bad for a program that started as a side project 20 years ago.
CLAC Training, Alberta Quick Facts
Welding Stats (2015)
- 7,088 appointments for testing, practice, and training at the welding shop
- 1,691 CWB tests
- 548 TIG tests
- 1,555 B-Pressure renewals
- 44 Initial B-Pressure tests
One Stop for All Your Training
From trade skills to health and safety to labour relations,
CLAC Training offers all kinds of courses.
“This has been a one-stop shop for me,” says Jonathan
McDougal. “Every time I’ve done one course, I look at
the board to see what else they offer and what I can
Top Courses Offered
Safety and Leadership
- Standard First Aid
- WHMIS 2015
- OSSA Fall Protection
- OSSA Basic Safety Orientation (BSO)
Visit clac.ca/training to find a course near you!