By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
When summer's massive power failure left millions in the dark, the tradespeople who help keep Ontario humming kicked into high gear, working behind the scenes until power was restored.
"Skilled tradespeople were critical contributors to bringing back power as quickly as we did," says Mani Goulding, director of talent management at Ontario Power Generation (OPG). "Our employees have a service mentality. They know they're providing an essential service ... Electricity is the mainstay of every industry in Ontario."
OPG operates two nuclear generating stations (Pickering and Darlington), 35 hydroelectric stations and six fossil-fuelled generating stations across the province.
"We are diverse in terms of geography, our types of energy and our workforce," Goulding says.
About 45% of its 12,000 employees are skilled tradespeople. They work primarily in 6 categories: operators, mechanical, civil, health physics, control and supervising trades.
Nuclear operators are involved in commissioning, starting up, running and shutting down various nuclear station systems. They also collate and interpret data.
Mechanical maintainers work on such equipment as pumps, compressors, turbines and heat exchangers. Civil maintainers support building maintenance and must have experience in such trades as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, scaffolding and roofing.
Control technicians perform troubleshooting and preventative maintenance on equipment and install, modify and inspect instrumentation, control and electrical equipment.
Positions within those six categories include turbine boiler operator, coal plant mobile equipment operator, radiation control technician, shift handyperson, shift labourer, transport and work equipment mechanic, chemical operator and emergency response
There has been an increased demand several trades. "OPG's need for skilled trades in the operator, mechanical, control and civil areas has increased due to an aging workforce and the resulting need to restock the trades talent pool," he says.
"In addition, we are in the midst of significant rehabilitation and maintenance work programs in our nuclear business that will require additional resources in all trades areas."
As the need for tradespeople grows, industry is bracing for a skilled trades shortage.
"Recruiting for tradespeople has been challenging since there is currently a nation-wide shortage of skilled trades due to declining enrolment in the trades career path," Goulding says.
She predicts a "massive" skilled trades shortage in 10 years, and says it must be addressed through a "three-pronged approach" involving government, educators and industry.
OPG is committed to helping meet industry needs. "OPG is partnering with a number of organizations to market the trades career path to young people who are preparing to choose a vocation," Goulding says.
Traditionally, OPG has recruited prospective employees at job and career fairs. Newer initiatives include working with the Power Workers' Union (PWU), which has launched aggressive recruiting initiatives.
"All of us have a responsibility to our youth of the future," says PWU recruiter Deb Carey. "They must be given the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge to secure their futures and to perform work safely. We can no longer leave this responsibility to others."
OPG representatives talk to elementary and high school students about the trades and work with community colleges to develop degree programs focused on the trades.
OPG offers co-op placements and apprenticeships and is targeting more young women, visible minorities, aboriginal people and the disabled.
"There's tremendous potential here that has not been nurtured and tapped," Goulding says, "a potential we cannot afford to overlook."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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