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CASUAL COUNTRY: Trades at TRU Williams Lake continue to take off

Women in trades growing at TRU

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. The post-secondary school in Williams Lake was initially called Cariboo College, then later The University College of the Cariboo and now is part of Thompson Rivers University.

The satellite campus in Williams Lake had various locations around the city, including the Pioneer Complex. In 2006, TRU opened its doors in the newly renovated Anne Stevenson Secondary School building.

Several programs are offered at the Williams Lake campus, including nursing, a health care assistant program and trades, such as welding, heavy-duty mechanics, ranging, carpentry, electrician, construction, heavy mechanical and saw filer. The saw filer apprentice program is the only one offered in B.C. TRU also offers the first year of the bachelor of arts program and Indigenous communities certificates.

The Williams Lake program is largely targeted toward community needs, said Pat Biblow, the manager of administration and operations at TRU. She’s been with TRU in various roles since 2006.

The Williams Lake campus is excited to be offering the Women in Trades Exploratory Program for the first time this year, a program that has been successful at the Kamloops campus. The 13-week intensive exploratory program introduces women to different trades, including heavy-duty mechanics, electrical, welding, carpentry and mining competencies. Those who complete the program will also receive 10 industry-recognized certificates and tickets.

The program is fully funded by the government and SkillTradesBC, making it an excellent opportunity for any woman curious about trades programs but perhaps unsure where to start. It provides students with that extra bit of confidence they need when entering the workforce while exposing them to different trades to see where their interests align, said Alison Sutherland-Mann, the community coordinator of community education and workforce development.

“We feel the need up here because of the industry. Trades are in huge demand,” she said.

Sutherland-Mann has her Red Seal and said the program allows women to support and lift each other up. However, for women in trades, being a tradesperson as opposed to being a woman in trades is important.

The program began on Aug. 14 and runs halfway into November. Twelve women are currently in the program, some newly out of high school and others in their late 30s. In the last week of the program, the students will prepare their resumes and cover letters and go through mock interviews to help them prepare for the work field. From there, students can enter a foundation program at TRU or into an apprenticeship.

A foundation program runs eight months and prepares students to enter a trade.

Biblow said the campus’ programs are doing well, especially the trades programs, which, in the past, haven’t been offered every year, although they run pretty regularly now. The campus has also seen an increase in people looking for jobs at the satellite campus since the pandemic.

Located behind the campus is the Gathering Place, designed after the traditional winter pit house, which serves as a meeting room for special events. The octagonal building, with a low dome-shaped roof (complete with natural grass sod on top), is encased by windows, providing a cozy look to the outdoors.

Inside the school, you’ll find three computer labs, classrooms, trades rooms and even a mock apartment, where health care assistant students can demonstrate their knowledge of caretaking. Observatory windows into the apartment allow other students to watch and learn. There’s also the cafeteria, library and several rooms where students can study or seek tutoring. Walking through the foyer, you’ll notice a mural painted by Dwayne Davis.

There are around 63 staff, admin and faculty members at the Williams Lake campus.

The school offers much to the community, especially those wishing to stay in town and learn. It also keeps costs down for students who don’t have to find housing in a new city.

Biblow said she loves “the diverse environment” at TRU.

“We all work together as a team. Everyone has their specialty. You get to know things that you wouldn’t normally know in a typical office because you’re working with an English instructor as well as a trades instructor,” said Biblow.

She said her goal there, as is everyone else’s who works there, is the shared support of the students.

“That’s key. That’s the thing that really attracts me and keeps me happy to be here, is that passion for student success.”

The school welcomed Kylie Thomas as the new academic director in August of this year. She comes with 25 years of experience working in post-secondary education. She’s a TRU alumnus and is currently completing her educational doctorate in higher education leadership.

“I believe the TRU Williams Lake campus offers access to a place of belonging and a comprehensive program mix to advance individual, local and regional transformation,” said Thomas. “TRU’s WL campus learner profile is diverse and includes new and returning learners from across the life cycle — those transitioning directly from high school, from the workforce, and/or returning for general interest. Whether you seek apprenticeship training, to engage in post-secondary studies and research, to reskill or upskill, TRU is the bridge to realizing those educational and career goals.

”I look forward to engaging with our local community partners and campus community to discover opportunities to collectively ensure Williams Lake and the regional communities have access to the educational and training programs needed to participate in existing and yet-to-be-imagined employment opportunities while collectively advancing local socio-economic priorities.”

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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