Job title and employer:
Instructor, Plant Operator Program at Selkirk College
What does your job title mean?
I instruct students to gain knowledge and develop the skills required for entry-level positions as plant operators. Students learn to operate, monitor and troubleshoot control equipment and processing units found in most industrial settings. The certificate program is 24-week and offers a variety of classroom, shop and real-world activities; 18 weeks on-campus including plant operations site visits, followed by a 6-week practicum (unpaid) in industry.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the community of Deep Cove located in North Vancouver, BC Canada
Where do you live now?
I live in Nelson located in the Kootenay region of BC, Canada
Where did you complete your training or education?
I have a teaching certificate from Vancouver Community College, and I completed my Electrical foundation program and all four levels of apprenticeship training at Selkirk College.
Do you self-identify as Indigenous?
I am a community member of the T’Sou-ke Nation located in Sooke on the west coast of Vancouver Island in BC.
What you do at work?
My typical workday is 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. Sometimes I stay later to prep for the next day. I lecture in the mornings, using PowerPoints and worksheets. In the afternoon, I work with students to do hands on activities. This helps the students with application of learning. I teach students about power engineering, compressors, turbines, valves, thermodynamics, heat transfer, etc. When they begin week five of their training, I take them on about 10 industry tours. This gives them chance to see plant operating systems in action. Selkirk College partnered with local industry (Teck, Zellstoff Celgar) and has a mobile sand plant onsite. Here students can learn how to process contaminated sand through a series of conveyors, pumps, and valves to wash/dry sand. They also learn about instrumentation, sensors, and see how the different processes work together.
As an instructor, I use STEM skills in my program. I teach physics concepts such as mechanical pulleys/leavers, fasteners, and use of hand/power tools. I also teach chemistry concepts such as pH levels, molecules, atoms and titrations. I also provide technology training related to safety and instrumentation. This includes using sensors to monitor temperature, pressure, water level and flow. We study lots of engineering in this program. Students have to understand thermodynamics, heat exchangers, evaporators, cooling towers, steam turbines, compressors, conveyors, ventilation systems, filters, pumps, etc. For math, we use basic math up to learning about geometry.
When I first starting instructing the Plant Operator program three years ago, the curriculum was new to me. As a result, I had to work hard to learn the new technical skills and build my knowledge. In my teaching, I am able to reflect back on my own experiences as an electrician. I also use by background in teaching other courses such as renewable energy, thermodynamics and solar power to help make curriculum clearer for student. Trouble shooting is a key skill for a plant operator at entry-level positions that have starting wages around $34/hr. Students are taught to read and interpret drawings as well as how to draw process maps of piping and instrumentation. They also learn how to read gauges, conduct hazard risk assessments, and write standard operating procedures.
I am the only person in my department. I do reach out to other instructors in the trades programs to add content to the Power Operator program curriculum. I also participate in annual meetings with other instructors.
How does what you do affect people’s lives?
In my role, students provide feedback on all parts of program. I feel fulfilled by the positive feedback from not only students but industry partners.
My career matters as I spend most of my time at my job. As a female tradesperson in a male dominated industry, I want to be a good role model for my children, and particularly for my daughter. I have a strong work ethic and I have a rewarding job in an interesting program. I love going to work and enjoy meeting new students with different personalities and needs.
Helping students become interested in their success in the program comes down to the teacher caring about them. It is important to be someone they can relate to and talk to, almost like a borderline friend/mom to students. It is important for me to build my knowledge, work hard, really care and have self-determination to be a role model to students. This is especially important for female students who face multiple challenges to succeed in this male dominated industry.
What motivates you in your career?
What gets me excited about my work is teaching my students the stuff they need for their career and seeing their success. Learning new skills is cool and I am teaching the tradespeople of tomorrow. My work is my reputation. It also reflects on Selkirk College as a school and can affect their industry relations. I care that students do a good job and are successful in their careers. Our program often has older students returning to a school environment after a long time. As a result, many students need help to adjust to learning again. Female students may need extra help as they are in a program that is mostly all males. Sometimes they just need encouragement that confirms they are making good decisions and positive life changes.
What I teach is most interesting to me. I am good at it and enjoy meeting different people, personalities and backgrounds. It is natural for me to care and get information through to students. I think my program has fascinating content! I enjoy helping students get interested in it, and retain the information by applying their learning in the field.
In 2018, I was honored to have received the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award. NISOD is a membership organization committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning and leadership at the community and technical college level.
How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up, my dad was not handy with tools and I was a girly girl so trades was never on my radar. When I graduated high school, I worked as a tree planter and travelled when I wasn’t working. I eventually got sick of seasonal work and wanted a home. A friend of mine was enrolled in the Electrical foundation program at Selkirk so I impulsively signed up with zero research done. I was the only female in foundations class, so I worked hard to prove to others and to myself that I would be successful.
I kept in touch with my electrical foundation instructor throughout my four-year apprenticeship and after I became a Red Seal electrician. He encouraged me to consider teaching and hired me to instruct the electrical skills of the Trades Discovery Program for Women. I did part-time relief instruction while working. Over the years, I also taught other courses such as renewable energy- wind, solar and hydropower. Eventually I was offered a full-time instructor position in Electrical, then Plant Operator program.
There are so many career paths once you get your Red Seal ticket. I was an electrician and started my own lighting design company. Now I am an Instructor and I love my job. I am motivated by seeing my students learn new skills. I did experience some challenges as a female working in the trades. It might have been as simple as showing up on the job site and no one paying you any attention because they thought you must be the daughter of one of the workers. I felt I had to prove myself on the job site. I kept my nose down and worked hard. I asked lots of questions because I didn’t want to look stupid. One day my foreman told me to stop asking questions saying “you know this”. That gave me lots of confidence that he trusted me to figure it out and I did.
What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
I enjoy running, cross-fit, mountain biking, dirt biking, boating and camping. Lots of outdoor physical activities with my family. Exercise is relaxing to me.
I volunteer on the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) bargaining committee at Selkirk College. In my personal life, I am a member of the PAC at my kid’s school.
What advice would you give to a young person interested in a similar career?
My advice would be to get out and talk to people. Look for job shadow opportunities, ideally with a female on job sites. Have confidence in yourself! There will be challenges along the way but work hard and always be prepared. The payoff is so worth it. Working in the trades is super satisfying. Lean on your support team and find a trusted friend or mentor to guide you through your career. Every day is a job interview. You never know when you will meet the right person.
I am hoping that we get to a point as a society that we don’t notice genders in the trades anymore and have the same expectations of males/females to just get the job done.
As a female professional, how can you influence the advancement of women in engineering and technology?
I think it is important to get out there talking to girls at a younger age so they have information needed early enough to select appropriate courses/prerequisites for post-secondary. Female speakers talking to classes with girls only will help get the message across, when there aren’t boys around to distract the girls like a PE/gym class.
I worked on the Industry Training Authority (ITA) curriculum development committee targeting younger grades to encourage more youth to try the trades. We developed a program targeting Grade 9 to try 3 trades in a month, to help youth decide which trade was a good fit. The Youth in Trades (YIT) program is offered in grade 12 with half a year at school then second half in a trade of their choice. Students receive high school credits and their level 1 apprenticeship completion certificate.
When I was in high school, I enjoyed…
Foods and Nutrition
Home Economics/Family Studies
Literature and English language arts
When I was in high school, I was someone who…
Brought people together
Always wanted to be outside
Liked helping people
Organized activities for my friends
Played on a sports team
Enjoyed working with my hands
Was motivated by success
Wanted to be in charge
Engaged in volunteer activities
Felt at home in the outside, natural environment
Always threw the best parties
Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
Wasn’t sure what I wanted to do
Learned best “by doing”
Being social with my friends
ASTTBC thanks Let’s Talk Science for their partnership in developing this career profile. Let’s Talk Science – a leading partner in Canadian education – is a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering Canadian youth to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world. To accomplish this, Let’s Talk Science offers a comprehensive suite of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) based programs to support youth, educators, and volunteers across Canada. For more information about Let’s Talk Science, visit letstalkscience.ca.