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Tools for a new generation: Training program sparks interest in clean energy, diversity in trades

Saturna Ecological Education Society

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As she looks back on her training, electrician Carissa Belyk can’t help but reflect on what she’d say to a younger version of herself.

She boils it down to a few simple words that could help any aspiring woman in the trades – “Don’t give up”. 

“Just focus on you, what you want and your apprenticeship, and you’re going to get through it and be super successful.” 

Carissa, a Red Seal electrician, has taken advantage of the educational opportunities offered by her union, the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW) Local 213 and she’s been able to steadily advance in her field over the last four years. 

Now, thanks to a collaboration between Vancity and the Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC) many more people are following in Carissa’s footsteps. The EJTC, which is the training arm of the IBEW Local 213 and ECA of BC, is offering training to help people – especially women and Indigenous workers – to get ready for careers in the renewable energy sector that include solar power and electric vehicle technology. 

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With a Vancity enviroFund grant of $70,000, EJTC launched a three-year project to specifically support the recruitment of Indigenous and female students, and modernize their curriculum to reflect the latest training for solar and electric vehicle charging station installation and maintenance. 

The program is meant to not only to help drive B.C.’s green economy, but also ensure that emerging opportunities in this area are accessible to people from a diverse range of backgrounds. 

“The industry is changing. A lot of young people see themselves working in solar, wind, new technologies coming out. It’s a big attraction,” says Phil Davis, the EJTC’s Managing Director, adding that electric vehicles, renewable energy and solar power, have revolutionized the trade.

The EJTC’s training program, the Electrical Entry Level Trades Training program (ELTT), consists of 15 weeks of training followed by 10 weeks of paid work experience. 

The formula is simple enough: create space for Indigenous and women apprentices to train in B.C., and in doing so create new opportunities that pave the way for more diversity within the sector. 

Trainees have the opportunity to move seamlessly from the EJTC program to apprenticeships, and then into an evolving work force that demands expertise in renewable and electric power. 

The EJTC aims to retrofit its facility so that it’s powered on 100% renewable energy. 

The Vancity enviroFund grant is providing support to unions as they build the training infrastructure that’s needed to address the skilled labour gap. At the same time, it is helping to create pathways for women, Indigenous workers and newcomers into the trades, and training a new generation of tradespeople in the emerging green construction industry. 

“We’re investing in the next generation of tradespeople because they’re an integral part of building sustainable communities that combat climate change,” says Vancity environment portfolio manager Morgan Beall.

And, as Phil Davis says, greater representation of women and Indigenous workers from the apprentice level to work site management helps encourage others to follow the same path.

Change can’t come soon enough for Carissa Belyk and her peers, who she says feel the pressure to work harder than most colleague to prove they’re worthy. 

“A lot of women I’ve talked to have told me they’ve been in trades for 30-plus years and they still have to prove themselves with every new job, at every new site.” 

To help enable that change, Carissa volunteers on the IBEW’s women’s committee, and is eager to be a role model for a new generation of electricians. 

“I really like my job,” she says. “Some days I laugh to myself, ‘hey, I’m getting paid for this.’ It’s pretty cool.”