BCWCA & FTI Apprentices At Skills Canada – BC

The BC Wall and Ceiling Association (BCWCA) took part in the Skills Canada – BC show for the fourth year in a row this April, bringing the wall and ceiling trade to the forefront for thousands of student-age attendees.

Jeff Triggs, executive director for BCWCA, said hundreds of students came through the booth, sampled the Try-a-Trade area where they used a mechanized shot tool to shoot a pin into concrete, and view photos of construction projects completed by BCWCA members.

“There was also a scissor lift ‘ride’ on site that was very popular and many volunteers were available for students to speak to regarding a career in the wall and ceiling industry,” said Triggs.

This is the most important reason the BCWCA participates in the annual event—to gain exposure. “To the general public, a lot of the work we do is hidden under the drywall and work such as acoustical ceilings are not understood as being part of our scope.,” said Triggs. “It is important to make people aware of our trade as we need workers to enter the workforce now and in the future.

The Association’s objective is to get young people working in the industry and through the wall and ceiling installer course at the BCWCA Training Centre and Finishing Trades Institute (FTI) to get their Red Seal Certification.

“It is also a great event to get members of the industry together working for the common good,” said Triggs.

The Association’s presence also brings faces to the trade and demonstrates in real time just how dynamic and creative the wall and ceiling trade can be.

The inside story on the wall and ceiling trade competition portion of this year’s Skills event brought all of this plus a heart-felt story to the day, demonstrating in a powerful way just how far determination and dedication to the trade can go.

The competition portion of Skills Canada – BC involves teams of two made up of apprentices from the BCWCA and the FTI who compete to complete a project in a given time and to certain specifications.

John Warrington, chairperson of the Skills Committee for the BCWCA, said at this year’s competition, two teams were scheduled to compete, but one participant did not show up. This could have meant a black mark against an otherwise excellent display, said Warrington, but the apprentice left without a partner wasn’t about to give up that easily.

“When the participant didn’t show up, the teachers told the kids they could go back to work,” said Warrington. “And then Beau says, ‘this is our chance to showcase to the industry and the kids here what we do, and I think we should stay for them and show them why they should get into the industry’.”

Beau Kerfoot, apprentice with Raicor Contracting, had many reasons for staying to compete as a one-man team, the most important of which was making his family proud.

Warrington said watching the level of support Kerfoot had at the competition unfold was an inspiring story:

“Beau just went to work and a while in, a lady came up to give him a bottle of water—it was his grandma. She remarked he’d never been in a competition and he was both nervous to compete and disappointed that he almost wasn’t able to,” said Warrington. “And then she said, ‘Grandpa will be here in a minute.’

“Not long after, a man in a wheelchair wearing a toque and jeans rolls in—this is grandpa and he has suffered a heart attack and has terminal cancer. In fact, he was supposed to have chemo this day, but put it off so he could see his grandson compete,” said Warrington.

“The fellow began chatting and remarked how proud he was Beau was still there and that the work he is doing is of excellent quality.”

Eventually, Kerfoot’s uncle, cousin, mother, and little brother also showed up to support him.

“I looked at that family and knew they had to have a photo. We brought them right into the competition area to have it as a backdrop,” said Warrington. “And, the Skills Canada – BC team was so touched by the story, they gave each competitor a gold medal, even though they couldn’t officially be judged.”

Dedicated Apprentices

Kerfoot grew up following in his grandfather’s footsteps. A general contractor in the 70s and 80s in White Rock, Kerfoot’s grandfather taught the youngster to use and respect tools from an early age, and by the time Beau was finished high school he knew construction was one of several career options he could explore.

“After high school, I was working in warehousing and threw my resume up on a website and I received a call from Moss Thomas at City Projects,” said Kerfoot. “That is where I got my start.”

Kerfoot said his time with City Projects was invaluable. “I had the opportunity to be with nice, helpful people who don’t hesitate to teach you their tricks,” he said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to meet the right guys, but I’ve been lucky and met good guys all along.”

Eager to gain experience in all areas of the wall and ceiling trade, Kerfoot eventually moved on to Robertson and then to his current employer, Raicor Contracting, where where he feels challenged and excited to stay for the long haul.

When BCWCA instructor Drew Smith asked Kerfoot to compete at Skills, Kerfoot knew it was going to a be a valuable experience for himself and the other participants. “I thought it was the coolest opportunity,” he said. “It is a great way to put your name out there and show people the beauty in our industry.”

Kerfoot said he stayed at Skills to compete alone because he enjoys working alone and didn’t want to lose the opportunity.

“I feel confident in my own capabilities and ability to get things done alone and go faster, and I think better by myself,” he said. “It was stressful at first. I kept forgetting things but I just kept my head down and kept going and remembered to take a breath and relax.”

For young people considering the trade, Kerfoot has some sage advice: “Always stay positive,” he said. “We are not just construction workers. I always think of myself as more of an artist than a construction worker.

“I am trying to make something beautiful. People get scared of what they think the industry is, and miss the much nicer side of creating something.”

The highlight of the day was his grandfather’s presence. “He wasn’t supposed to be with us for this long, and it made it even more special that he was there,” said Kerfoot. “He was the best role model and I wouldn’t be where I am without him.

“This industry builds great character,” he aded. “I was a trouble maker when I was younger and into bad things. This job gave me a light and I don’t know where I would be without it.”

Competitor Jaysper Manhas works for Benton & Overbury and has been in the construction industry for nearly five years. In 2012, he started as a labourer for a general contractor at Wall Financial Corporation.

“I think this was the most important time of my career because it opened doors to all trades and I could finally find out what I really wanted to do in life,” he said. “When I was a kid I always wanted to be a carpenter and in high school it was a class I got the best marks in.”

As a labourer he worked with many carpenters but found it difficult to find a sponsor. Manhas spoke with City Projects owner Moss Thomas, who explained the wall and ceiling trade, and that his crew were not carpenters.

“He said, ‘We are similar; we also frame but with steel,” said Manhas. “That caught my attention right off the bat.”

Thomas explained carpenters build small projects up to four storeys, and anything larger – hospitals, hotels, stadiums, and restaurants – are built by interior systems mechanics.

He explained that carpenters only build the slab and told Manhas the public needs to know its our trade that frames all commercial jobs over four storeys and not carpenters.

“All of this caught my attention and and made me start my career in this trade,” said Manhas. “I love the fact that everyday I’m learning something new, something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of life.

“I love starting with nothing, then leaving and seeing something that I brought to life with my own hands … something I once thought I couldn’t do, because limits like fear are often just an illusion.”

Manhas competed at Skills because he has found confidence in doing a job he loves.

“I know I’m a good tradesman because I love what I do, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do,” he said. “When I was a kid in high school I was taking auto refinishing and had a chance to visit Skills Canada and never thought I would one day be competing in it. For me this was a great accomplishment.

“My Skills Canada certificate is framed and hung up on my wall; it’s the first thing I see when I come home from work.”

Manhas is exceptionally happy at Benton & Overbury and appreciates a “great bunch of guys with great management, and a great company to advance in.”

Donny Riddell has been the best super intendant I have ever worked for,” he said. “However, I do have a dream.”

Manhas is moved to bring his skill and passion to places in the world regularly affected by natural disasters.

“I understand there are places in the world that get earthquakes and tsunamis regularly,” he said. “I have always wanted to work in disaster relief. Some people chase money. Others find what they love to do in life and help to change the world.

“I don’t know if I will be able to change the world as I can’t look forward, but what I can say is I have definitely found what I love to do in life.”

The third competitor in the Skills Canada – BC Wall and Ceiling Competition was Samantha Bednarz, currently employed at City Projects and three years into a promising career.

“I’ve always been interested in trades but I never really knew which one was right for me,” she said. “I just happened to stumble across this trade when I was searching for a job. I had no previous experience when I started with City Projects and yet they happily took me under their wing and coached my way through and now I’m a ticketed Red Seal wall and ceiling installer.”

Bednarz loves the way the industry is constantly teaching her something new, and the feeling of accomplishment she gets from building something from scratch. New to the industry, Bednarz is excited there is plenty for her to learn; for instance, she’s been running her own smaller sites—the perfect chance to work on her leadership skills, she said.

“I was approached by my instructor about participating in the Skills Canada – BC Competition and I was honoured to do so,” she said. “I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I did not want to miss out on.”

For more information about BCWCA and Skills Canada, please contact the BCWCA at info@bcwca.org.