Recruiting drive yields bumper crop of trainees

Two people in hard hats and safety gear hoist a harnessed bag.

Trainees conduct a confined space rescue exercise at 820 Taylor.

Our Safety and Training Support Team recently onboarded the largest intake of new Power Electrician and Mechanical Technician trainees in several years.

A group of 45 trainees recently completed three weeks of orientation at 820 Taylor. The intake is part of a concerted recruitment effort to help meet our operational and customer needs into the future.

“Our recruitment teams have been working hard to maximize recruitment into our trade training programs,” said Lincoln Sagel, manager of Manitoba Hydro’s Safety and Training Support department. “We recognize that there are many vacant trade-based positions throughout the enterprise and it’s exciting that we’re able to recruit and hire trade apprentices into our trade training programs in an effort to fill the vacant trade positions.”

The 45 Power Electrician and Mechanical Technician trainees include Indigenous and women trainees who entered PE and MT pre-placement programs.

“The most rewarding aspect of this job is calling the candidates to let them know we have selected them to be hired,” said Ryan Canada, training coordinator for the PE and MT programs. “Their reactions are priceless. Some cry as they’re so happy, some cheer out loud… every call is different, but they are all very satisfying.”

Most of the trainees are new to Hydro entirely, with a range of electrical/mechanical experience from ten-plus years to some who are relatively new to the field.

“It’s exciting to have apprentices coming through both the Stonewall and Northern Training Centres regularly again,” said Dione Peech, a former Power Electrician who now works in training. “From the training centre perspective, we are trying to accommodate all of the new trainees within their proposed training schedule and give them the best training experience possible.”

A group of people in hard hats stands with a barbed wire fence and high-voltage equipment in the background.

Trainees observe a safety demonstration before taking part in hands-on training.

Enlarge image: A group of people in hard hats stands with a barbed wire fence and high-voltage equipment in the background.

“A good long-term job”

Although Meagan Robinson just started as a Power Electrician trainee with Hydro on March 13, she is a journeyperson construction electrician.

“I’m looking forward to a new experience and being able to learn a lot more,” Meagan said. “When I was working in the construction electrical field, the tendency was to get moulded into one set of tasks, so I appreciate having more variety with Hydro. And having steady, reliable employment is also top of my list. Working in construction comes with up and down periods… when one job ends there is the potential for layoffs if another job isn’t ready for crew. Hydro offers the opportunity of consistent employment.”

Adam Wiebe started as a Mechanical Technician trainee with Hydro in March. Prior to joining Hydro, Adam worked at Selkirk Machine Works for three years.

“I started right out of high school. I did a year of welding and two years of a machining apprenticeship,” he said. “I went to school for my Level 1 just a week before I came here.”

The plan is for Adam to be stationed in Great Falls. After long days in online training, he was looking forward to doing hands-on work.

“I’ll be starting at Great Falls, which will be my headquarter zone and I’ll do my first rotation there,” he said. “This will be a good long-term job for me, and it sounds like they need mechanics.”

Erik Muchow, a Power Electrician trainee, has been with Hydro for just over 18 months; he started in Station Construction as a construction electrician.

“I was doing work all over the province with substations and generation. A good benefit of being with Hydro is getting to see many parts of the province and being paid to do it,” Erik said. “There are still corners of the province I’d like to see, so I’m hoping for opportunities to do that. Being a student again is exciting, learning more about the trade and the craft.”

Safety first

Erik said the bulk of the three-week training orientation focused on safety.

“What I do really notice about Hydro is that they put a lot of emphasis on safety. We’ve been going through safety for these first few weeks, and I really appreciate that.”

After being onboarded by Human Resources representatives on March 13 (which included reviewing general Hydro policies, filing digital paperwork, hearing tests and other medical assessments), the trainees were off and running with three weeks of e-learning and hands-on training with Field Safety Officers.

“In that initial three weeks, we want to give the trainees a good base of knowledge for when they do go to the field,” Ryan said. “We go through how to job plan, using fall protection systems, working at elevations, bucket rescue and all of the other procedures they will need to be able to work at any site for Manitoba Hydro. This type of safety training will happen throughout their first year and really, throughout their career as procedures are updated.”

A group of people gathers around a table to fill out paperwork.

Job planning and tailboard meetings are a critical part of safety procedures.

Enlarge image: A group of people gathers around a table to fill out paperwork.

Learning from journeypersons

Following the three-week training course, trainees will move on to continue their training on-site or at one of the Training Centres. Pre-placement trainees will move on to further training at the McLeod Learning Centre to get their math and physics pre-requisites.

Both the PE and MT programs are 4-year apprenticeship programs and require the trainees to work under the direct supervision of experienced journeypersons at all times. To ensure the trainees experience specific aspects of their trade consistently, the trainees partake in four levels of competency (or skills) based training taught by Trades Specialists at either the Stonewall Training Centre or the Northern Training Centre (Gillam). With the large numbers of trainees now requiring training, multiple classes of each level are being run simultaneously.

“When possible, we try to pull in guest instructors from the field,” said Dione Peech. “As a supplemental resource to our Trades Specialists, they are beneficial because they are familiar with current technology and are able to fill the gap when we don’t have enough Trades Specialists to accommodate the large number of new trainees.”

A person in a green hard hat speaks in front of a group of people in yellow hard hats.

Field Safety Officer Nathan Sichewski works with trainees during a confined spaces rescue exercise.

Enlarge image: A person in a green hard hat speaks in front of a group of people in yellow hard hats.

“This current group was one of the largest intakes I have ever been involved with,” Ryan said. “We are in many ways playing catch up, so we would like to hire as many as we can.”

There are several factors that limit the intake of new trainees per year.

“Because this is an apprenticeship program, we have to make sure we have no more than two trainees per one journeyperson,” Ryan said.

Three people in yellow hard hats have their hands on a winch.

Trainees set up a Unipost and rescue winch during safety exercises.

Enlarge image: Three people in yellow hard hats have their hands on a winch.

In addition, the training centres and RRC Polytech all have a limited number of spaces each year for students.

“We have to manage those numbers. As we are hiring, we are putting people into the Training Centres and RRC Polytech,” Ryan said. “Moving forward, it depends on what the need is for vacancies and what all the areas require.”

Finding mechanical technician trainees can be challenging.

“Mechanical is one of those trades where they are really hurting right now. They can’t find people and they can’t fill those positions across the industry,” Ryan said. “From a Hydro perspective, we will put out a mechanical job posting and don’t always get many applicants. I think that part of that is the perception that we are an electrical utility and people don’t realize that we need mechanical trainees and industrial mechanics within our corporation. They just don’t know about it. And some people aren’t aware of the trade in general.”

To help spread awareness among young people looking for a rewarding career, the Safety and Training Support Team have an ongoing partnership with Apprenticeship Manitoba and have had hands-on days for potential trainees in Thompson, Gillam and the Stonewall Training Centre (with a future date for Brandon in the works). The team has sent representatives to career fairs in The Pas and other areas, as well as presenting to students at the high school level.

“We are getting out there to promote the job opportunities, but we will continue to have to be creative to find new ways to recruit,” Ryan said.

Despite these challenges, there are plenty of new faces coming to the field.

“I’m excited… we’re starting to see the trainees get out there working,” Ryan said. “We have a class finishing that started in 2019, so we are going to start seeing some of our hiring pay off and eventually see these employees move into positions. This particular intake is definitely going to help that. They’ll be going through the schooling and completing in the next 3-4 years, and they’ll be looking for jobs. It’s an exciting time for them and us.”

Lincoln said recruiting new trades personnel would be an ongoing priority.

“We will be hiring into the trade programs for years to come. The best way to recruit is word of mouth so please spread the word!”

Learn more about our trades and technology training programs.