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Getting To Work On Rewarding Careers in the Trades

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
June 9th, 2023

On a warm spring morning along the shore of Kootenay Lake’s West Arm, Selkirk College alumna Meredith Vezina is getting to work preparing the foundation for a renovation project she’s overseeing for Ellenwood Homes.

A Red Seal carpenter who began her training at Nelson’s Silver King Campus in 2011 with very little experience using tools, Vezina now runs her own crew for one of the region’s most active builders.

Starting in the Carpentry Foundation Program and progressing through all Skilled Trades BC apprenticeship levels offered at Selkirk College, Vezina is proud to now help mentor others who are pursuing a similar pathway through the trade.

“From the start, it suited the way my brain works,” Vezina says of her first steps towards becoming a Red Seal carpenter.

“I’m a hands-on person and love the math aspect, so once you understand the rules of carpentry it is pretty straightforward. One of the best parts of the trade is that it is about problem solving and there are all kinds of different challenges each day.”

Arriving to the West Kootenay from Ontario to embrace snow-filled winter recreation opportunities, Vezina began looking for a career path that provided an array of possibility and solid earning potential. When a friend suggested carpentry, it piqued her interest. Though she had never really swung a hammer, Vezina was emboldened when she began investigating what was offered at the local college.

The six-month Carpentry Foundation Program prepares learners for entry level positions as apprentice carpenters with home builders or contracting companies. Students are engaged in both classroom and shop activities that establish knowledge, skills and confidence.

With the benefit of 450 work-based hours towards the on-the-job apprenticeship component of the trade, the program steers towards three additional levels of formal training that lead to Red Seal certification.

“It’s like learning another language and you have to decipher a whole new world,” says Vezina. “But once you get on the jobsite, it all comes together and getting the right education opens that door.”

A Vital Extension of the Classroom

Marc Brillon and Lara Ellenwood moved their upstart company from the Lower Mainland to Nelson in 2010. With Ellenwood a registered interior designer and Brillon a trained architectural and building engineering technologist, the couple started with only one employee.

Now one of the leading new-build and renovation contractors in the region, Ellenwood Homes has 17 people on staff and run a bustling operation.

From the start, Ellenwood Homes has placed emphasis on structuring a team with the right attitude and desire to continually learn. Adding between one and two apprentice carpenters each year, Brillon is committed to helping individuals succeed in their chosen career. 

“When it comes to hiring apprentices, it’s mostly opportunities,” says Brillon.

“If you have processes in place and lead carpenters who are skilled, then you have a crew that is open to the continual training. When you hire people like Meredith who have also gone through the process, they know what it’s like. The environment we try to create is one that is well-guided and well-instructed by others on the team. If everyone knows that this is a place of not just doing, but learning… then it goes smoothly.”

The combination of having Selkirk College in the community and an openness to being an extension of formal education has helped Ellenwood Homes with its current success.

“It’s invaluable to have a trades campus in our community,” he says.

“We have established relationships with the instructors and know that when a new person arrives to the jobsite that they have been taught the skills that we need. We can help teach the technical side of the trade, but the most important part is the right attitude. That they have gone to school shows that they are committed to the trade.”

Careers with Tangible Outcomes

The latest addition to the Ellenwood Homes team is 19-year-old Jessica McLeod. Born-and-raised in the Nelson area, she completed the Carpentry Foundation Program earlier this year and headed straight to the jobsite where she is amassing apprenticeship hours.

“Carpentry has always been appealing to me,” McLeod says. “My dad inspired me to go for a trade and carpentry seemed like the one that was the best fit.”

Currently working on the renovation project crew led by Vezina on the beautiful West Arm of Kootenay Lake, McLeod is grateful to be guided by a female mentor and program alumna. Like Vezina, she plans on returning to Selkirk College to continue her educational march towards a Red Seal.

“The instructors are so supportive and caring,” McLeod says.

“Because the class size was small, it was very enjoyable to work with other students who have the same interest and passion.”

Opportunities for skilled trades abound across British Columbia and beyond. With a multitude of pathways within each trade and excellent earning potential, Brillon says it’s a great time to explore the options.

“It’s physical and demanding, but there is a lot of problem solving and organization skills that go into making a good carpenter,” says Brillon.

“It’s something that I hope more young people consider. When you can stand back at the end of the day and physically see that you have accomplished something that leaves a legacy… that makes it a very rewarding career.”

The next intake for the Selkirk College Carpentry Foundation Program begins on August 8, 2023 with applications now being accepted. Learn more about the School of Industry & Trades Training at Selkirk College at: https://selkirk.ca/programs/industry-trades-training

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