Trading Up: Students Learn Skills, Attain Work as Insulation Installers

Dustin McGibbon had been working as a mechanic in Fort McMurray for eight years before he decided to move back home to Vernon. Although he’d worked for a restoration company in his hometown before heading to Fort Mac, he found it was like “pulling teeth” to find work upon his return.

As a single dad, he wanted to be able to provide for his family but also have flexible daytime and weekday hours. That’s when McGibbon decided to explore his options at the WorkBC Centre in Vernon.

It was at WorkBC where McGibbon heard about the Residential Insulator Program at Okanagan College. Funded by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction through a partnership between WorkBC, training institutions and local industry leaders, McGibbon was able to get the training he needed and now works full time at ThermoTech, a Vernon company that provides insulation services throughout the Okanagan.

“I had done some residential construction such as drywalling and mudding before, but I didn’t really know the basics of building mechanics and why things are done a certain way. Now I have a better understanding of why we are doing what we are doing,” says McGibbon.

 Supporting the Industry

An important part of the building trade that most people never see, residential insulation has come a long way since ThermoTech owner Roy Wood first got into the trade 40 years ago.

One of the biggest changes has been with the new energy requirements for buildings from the BC Building Code. Those changes are one of the reasons Roy and others in his field require knowledgeable and trained insulators.

Wood had previously approached WorkBC when looking for workers and had hired staff through WorkBC’s Wage Subsidy Services, but he found he needed a better trained and knowledgeable workforce, so he once again approached WorkBC Wage Subsidy Advisor Selena Stearns about the possibility of starting a training program for residential insulation installers.

“Insulation is part of the bigger building trade but the problem was we weren’t considered a trade as of yet and did not have a training facility here. I felt we needed to create an educated workforce in the Okanagan,” says Wood.

Okanagan College photo
Dustin McGibbon works with his fellow students in applying insulation at the training facility at Okanagan College Vernon campus.

Building the Blocks for a New Trade

Together, Wood and WorkBC were able to start a pilot project through WorkBC’s Project Based Labour Market Training (PBLMT), which provides funding to organizations, businesses and agencies in support of projects that benefit the community as well as unemployed individuals and those attached to Employment Insurance.

Okanagan College was then approached by WorkBC’s Client Services Manager Mike Champigny about starting the Residential Insulator Program. In turn, Okanagan College hired industry expert Luke Egely to lead the course.

The 25-week program provides not only hands-on skills in all insulation applications, but also gives participants the necessary certification in order to ply their trade. This includes WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), Occupational First Aid, CSTS (Construction Safety Training System), Fall Arrest Safety (for those working at heights and using a harness), Confined Space Awareness, DC315 (thermal paint application) and SFP (polyurethane foam spray application).

“Having Luke, who is a professional spray foam technician, training us was a bonus,” says Michael Hunter, who previously worked in fibreglass production before entering the program. “It was such a good course. There was so much information that came out if it that I didn’t know before.”

“When the course came up, I had never heard of spray foam insulation. I knew about batting. Now I have a certification to be a spray foam applicator and I didn’t need to pay extra for the ticketing, it was included,” adds McGibbon.

Insulating a New Job

As part of the program, students also had to complete a 10-week work placement, with ThermoTech coming aboard to provide the training.

Working with Operations Manager Morgan Berger, along with ThermoTech’s experienced installation professionals and a foreman, each student performed an on-the-job rotation to learn the different insulation applications that ThermoTech provides. This includes batting, spray foam, vapour barriers, blown loose fill, attic installation, coatings, wet spray insulation, blow-in blanket wall assembly and more.

“We wanted them to understand our processes and ask questions,” says Berger. “In a lot of ways, they are happy to be here and we’re grateful to have them. It’s been nice to come in the morning and not see anyone dragging their feet. They come in with a positive attitude and follow our core values, which are dependability, honesty and respect. They also help out our current staff and because they have recently undergone training, they have even taught some of our older staff some of the things they have been learning. It’s a win-win situation.”

In the end, both McGibbon and Hunter and four of their fellow students are now gainfully employed at ThermoTech, and they won’t be alone.

With its initial success, the Residential Insulator Program is being continued. The next intake of students is taking place now and the program is expected to start Dec. 10 at Okanagan College Vernon campus.

“We are thrilled that this course is moving forward,” says Wood. “A lot of people put this together and we are grateful for the workforce and for getting applicants that are knowledgeable. With a better workforce, we can provide a better service to our customers.”

To qualify for the Residential Insulator Program, applicants need to be unemployed, under-employed or be employed in work that is not secure. They also need to have either an active Employment Insurance (EI) claim or a past claim in the last five years, or paid EI premiums on earning over $2,000 in five of the last 10 years.

To find out if you are eligible, visit WorkBC Employment Services at Community Futures North Okanagan or call 250-545-2215 ext. 230.

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