Former Burns Lake Sawmill Workers Graduate Pre-Apprenticeship
June 17, 2013 | 8:49 pm CDT

BURNS LAKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA - The Industry Training Authority (ITA) today announced that 17 former mill-workers from Burns Lake graduated from the innovative Pre-Apprenticeship and Essential Skills (PATES) program, created and delivered through the College of New Caledonia Lakes District campus.

The 19-week program was implemented following the devastating explosion at the Babine Forest Products Sawmill in Burns Lake that killed two workers and injured 19 others in January 2012. The mill was the town's largest employer and the fire put an estimated 250 people out of work.

To help workers prepare for the future, the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training provided funding through the Canada-B.C. Labour Market Agreement (LMA) to support an innovative Pre-Apprenticeship and Essential Skills (PATES) program, which was created and delivered through the College of New Caledonia Lakes District campus and is overseen by ITA.

"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. "Congratulations to all the graduates of this innovative program, and thank you to the College of New Caledonia and all the partner organizations who created and delivered the program."

The 19-week program was developed in consultation with Hampton Lumber Canada (owners of Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products), the United Steel Workers Union and former mill workers. "It was great for all involved to come together and work towards addressing the unemployment issue in Burns Lake," said Ian Gray, Regional Manager at Hampton Lumber Canada. "This program enabled mill-workers to further their skills, build their confidence, prepare them to return to work and provide them with the skills needed to qualify for a trades apprenticeship."

"We have said repeatedly that we must do everything we can to get the people of Burns Lake back working, and today's graduation is an important step in the process," said John Rustad, Nechako Lakes MLA.

Industry Training Authority CEO, Kevin Evans says the program was a collaborative effort between industry, employers, workers and government. "By coming together we were able to provide a training program that meets the needs of an entire community," said Evans. "This is an important step in rebuilding Burns Lake, helping the community gain the skills they need to find new employment and stability."

In total, 21 students graduated from the PATES program on June 14th, including 17 former mill-workers. In addition to theoretical and practical shop time in three trades (millwright, heavy duty mechanic and construction trades), the program had a strong focus on Essential Skills training and industry certifications.

Program participant Frankie Erickson worked at the Babine Sawmill for 30 years. "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." Frankie decided to enroll in the program as a way to gain additional skills that would help him find new employment. "I started at the sawmill in '83, in those days you didn't need a ticket to get a job. Nowadays to get a good job you need certain certificates, this program helped us old-timers get some of these qualifications. We can now go out and find new jobs, and perhaps do something different."

"This is a clear example of the programs needed to get people affected by this tragedy back into the workforce. Our government has said all along that we want the people of Burns Lake to have long-term jobs in Burns Lake, and skills training such as this program is fundamental to them finding these jobs," said Minister Bond.

Associate Regional Director at Lakes District Campus, Scott Zayac, says the program was developed to support former Hampton employees without trades tickets. "In the aftermath of the explosion it was clear that there was a group of workers who could benefit from further education before re-entering the workforce," said Zayac. "Some of the program participants came into the program with limited computer experience and now they're skilled and ready to look for work. I'm happy to say a handful have already found employment."

The students graduate with industry certification in OFA level 3, Transportation Endorsement, Transportation of dangerous goods, H2S Alive, Construction Safety Training System, Supervisor Safety Management, Fall Protection, and Forklift Operator. The Burns Lake sawmill is expected to reopen in 2014.

About ITA

The Industry Training Authority (ITA) manages BC's industrial trades training and certification system, and works with employers, employees, industry, labour, training providers and governments to increase opportunities in the trades. .

Source: Industry Training Authority


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