Trent Ernst, Editor
On Thursday, May 21, MLA Mike Bernier was in town on behalf of Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson to announce a $150,000 grant to support workers affected by the idling of Wolverine and Peace River Coal.
“How do we make sure that we have programs in place as we move forward?” asked Bernier at the announcement at the Tumbler Ridge Northern Lights Campus. “People up here in Tumbler Ridge have great skill sets already; they have a great work ethic. They can put all of that together so that at the end of the day they have the training needed for a job that is available right now.”
Bernier says he was just talking with Bill Bennett about Tumbler Ridge. “We have no control over the world price of coal, but we know the mining industry is here to stay,” he says. They’ve been meeting with Anglo American and Walter, and while they are itching to get back up and running, Bernier cautions it might be a while. “That’s why we’ve been working with everyone here at Northern Lights College to figure out opportunities where we can help.”
The one time funding grand is provided in alignment with BC’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, and is designed to support communities and retrain employees affected by industry slowdowns and closures.
“Training skilled workers for in-demand jobs will help build a strong economic future for the community and British Columbia as a whole,” said Northern Lights college president Dr. Bryn Kulmatycki. “NLC is proud to work with the Ministry of Advanced Education and our local community partners to provide training opportunities for workers affected by the mine suspensions in the Tumbler Ridge area.”
A Community Transition Team is working with NLC to help identify the types of training that will best support future job prospects for Tumbler Ridge workers. Training will complement the skills and experience the workers already have, along with helping them develop new skills.
“It’s a catch-22 situation,” says Bernier. “A lot of times, it’s tough to educate people while they’re working because they don’t have time to slow down and do their upgrading, to diversify their skill set. The silver lining here is we can try to take advantage of this downturn and make sure people take advantage of this opportunity to upgrade their skills for when things change.”
Councillor Darryl Krakowka was at the announcement. He says anything that gets Tumbler Ridge people working is a good thing. “We want our residents to stay in our community. They might have to work away, but this is huge for the town.”
“The loyalty people have shown to this community is second to none,” agrees Bernier.
Campus Administrator Donna Merry says these will be mostly off-the-shelf courses that Northern Lights College has offered in the past, due to the short turnaround time. “We were given this announcement, and a month later had to have a plan, so it was short, short, short. And we have to have finished this by March of next year. That’s a pretty short timeline. We have some plans we are working on for Tumbler Ridge. They didn’t fit this timeline, but these courses will fill a need right now.
“We have a compliment of 13 workforce training course, which are short training courses, up to a week that give people the tickets they need to move their skills into another industry. That will start right away and take place over the next few months. We also have adult upgrading courses for next year. The goal there is to help people fill in any gaps so they can apply for a trade or any other further education they might want.”
Finally, says Merry, the college will also be offering a five-month long professional office program “This has immediate application for jobs in town,” she says, as well as an introduction to computers course, which is a gap in the local education that was recognized by Work BC, she says. “These things are at a foundational level so that there’s no barriers for people moving forward into other industry areas for employment.”