EDMONTON, Alta. - While much has been made about the shortage of qualified drivers in the trucking industry, there's a parallel industry that's also starved for skilled workers.For several years now, ...
SKILL SHORTAGE: ThinkBIG will produce more skilled technicians.
EDMONTON, Alta. – While much has been made about the shortage of qualified drivers in the trucking industry, there’s a parallel industry that’s also starved for skilled workers.
For several years now, there’s been a shortage of qualified technicians to service heavy-duty vehicles.
And as with trucking, the situation is expected to get worse as an aging workforce nears retirement.
Finning, a Western Canadian company that sells and services Caterpillar engines, has taken steps to address the issue head-on by introducing the ThinkBIG program to Canada for the first time.
Finning has teamed up with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to offer the ThinkBIG equipment technician’s program, which is designed to churn out well-trained technicians that are especially familiar with Caterpillar engines and equipment.
To get the ball rolling, Finning and Caterpillar have donated more than $750,000 in equipment to NAIT, including an MT765 tractor and 13 heavy-duty diesel engines on which students will hone their skills.
Finning has also promised to keep the financial support flowing, with up to $4,000 worth of tools to be provided to graduates of the two-year program.
Add to that the fact that employment following graduation is almost a certainty, and it’s little wonder that NAIT president, Dr. Sam Shaw, expects renewed interest in the profession.
“The jobs are there,” says Shaw. “The students coming into this program will have lots of opportunity because there are lots of unfilled vacancies in this particular area.”
NAIT offers a variety of heavy-duty technician programs, and Shaw says the ThinkBIG program will complement them nicely.
In fact, he says the school hopes to grow the program into a four-year degree option.
“In the future, we would like to see the two years be factored into a four-year academic program with the ultimate qualification being a Bachelor of Technology,” says Shaw.
Ray Jeffery, manager of training with Finning, says he hopes the program creates more awareness about the opportunities that exist for heavy-duty technicians.
“Basically, we’re trying to do two things here,” he says.
“We’re trying to bring youth into our trade area and we’re trying to make sure we’ve got some Caterpillar-qualified technicians out there to look after our customers’ needs.”
After successfully completing the program, graduates will be able to apply for jobs at Finning, where they will learn the remainder of the necessary skills from experienced technicians.
“They can’t learn it all just by going to school,” says Jeffery.
“There’s an immediate need to get apprentices into the system so we can link them up with our existing workforce.”
The ThinkBIG program has been operating successfully for some time in the U.S., but introducing the program to Canada was a lengthy process.
“The reason it was not as easy to implement it in Canada as in the U.S. is because we have a world-renowned apprenticeship program already in the province. We needed to make sure the program we brought in from outside the province is at least of the same standard,” says Jeffery.
That meant it was necessary to tinker with the program to ensure it meshed with existing provincial guidelines.
All that’s been accomplished, and now the next step is to simply find suitable candidates.
There will be 24 applicants accepted in the first year of the program – 12 will begin classes in September with the remainder starting in November.
“We’re looking for people who have a desire to get into the trade and the difficult thing there is that people don’t know enough about the trade,” says Jeffery.
“ThinkBIG is another way for us to promote the trade.”
Minimum qualifications include a high school diploma and english, math and physics at the 30 level.