February 2, 2010
Fort McMurray college experiences apprenticeship boom
Trades and heavy industrial apprenticeships at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta. have doubled in the last eight years, driven by rapid growth in the construction and operation of oilsands facilities.
“We are blessed with being the training provider in the oilsands region and that translates directly into growth,” said Glenn van’t Wout, dean of trades and heavy industrial division at Keyano College.
“This growth is not in direct proportion to the number of barrels of oil produced, because we can’t grow as fast as the industry in the region. But, there is definitely a correlation.”
Two sets of numbers are used to track the number of apprentices attending the college. The first is the request for seats in any given trade from the Alberta Apprenticeship Training Board. The second is the number of students who get training.
In 2008-2009, the government requested 932 seats and 866 students attended a course, up from 504 and 402 respectively in 2000.
While the focus is to meet the training needs for operation and maintenance in the oilsands, there is duplication and ties between operations, maintenance and construction trades.
The mobile crane operator program was developed recently in response to the rapid growth of oilsands projects. “It’s a unique trade in so far as before Keyano offered mobile crane training, NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) was the only other training provider in the province,” said van’t Wout.
“This program resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of seats offered in the province. Despite the increase, there is still a high demand for seats.”
van’t Wout said changes in oilsands technology have a direct effect on programming attendance in those programs. For example, the original mining method used was based on draglines and bucket-wheel reclaimers. This has been replaced by shovel-and-truck mining.
In response, attendance in the heavy equipment technician apprenticeship program jumped 168 per cent to 268 in 2008/2009 from 100 apprentices in 2000/2001.
The training for a journeyman welder is directly related to both oilsands construction and operations. “As a welder the regulations require subsequent tickets in pressure vessel and structural welding,” said van’t Wout.
“Keyano is licensed to test welders for their ability to perform these welds and they must be tested every several years for certification.”
The electrician trade is geared more towards oilsands construction, as opposed to operations and maintenance.
“In other provinces this trade could be defined as a construction electrician, but in Alberta it is defined as just an electrician,” he explained.
“This is a reflection of the synergy between construction and operations.”
In 2000/2001, there were 110 electricians taking apprenticeship training at the college. This number increased by 100 per cent to 220 in 2008/2009.
The mechanical and construction trades preparation program, is also aimed at the construction industry.
In this 24-week program, students get entry-level training, employment skills and a job placement, which helps them choose and prepare for a career in the trades. Each year it includes two groups of 12 students.
To address the demand, Keyano College is planning to build a new $130 million Oil Sands Trades & Technology Centre.
A preliminary business case for the project was submitted in 2009, but there won’t be any government funding for it in the next two years.
To accomplish the expansion, the college will deal with the new centre in a phased approach. Phase one will be the power engineering lab, which will cost about $20 million for the building and equipment.
It is hoped that the first phase will be completed in the summer of 2012.
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