BURNS LAKE, BC - Seventeen former employees of the Babine Forest Products sawmill that was destroyed last year in a fatal explosion have completed the Pre-Apprenticeship and Training Essential Skills (PATES) program at the College of New Caledonia Lakes District campus.

17 Ex-Workers of Destroyed Sawmill Finish Pre-Apprentice ClassThe January 2012 explosion and fire at Forest Products sawmill killed two workers, injured 19 others and put approximately 250 people out of work, including the recent PATES grads. Last December, Hampton Affiliates, which operates the mill as a joint venture with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation (BLNDC), announced it would rebuild the Babine Forest Products sawmill. It is scheduled to open next year.

The 19-week PATES program was implemented to help Babine Forest Products acquire new skills to begin new careers in areas like transportation of dangerous goods, construction safety, and forklift operation. The program is overseen by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) and is made possible by funding from the British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training. Hampton Affiliates and the United Steel Workers Union, which represented Babine Forest Products workers, helped develop the program.

"Our government made a commitment to the people of Burns Lake that we would support them, and this skills training program is certainly a success story. The program was designed to assist workers that were impacted by the tragedy to get back into the workforce," said Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour.

Frankie Erickson, who worked at the Babine Sawmill for 30 years and graduated from the PATES program, said, "It was hard for everyone after the explosion. Babine was our livelihood, most of us in the PATES program had worked there for decades and had kids who worked there too. It was all we knew ... (T)his program helped us old-timers get some of these (certification) qualifications. We can now go out and find new jobs, and perhaps do something different."

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