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Point Hope shipyard hosts job fair and open house, hoping to attract more people to trades

Tours are open to the public on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and prospective workers will be able to speak directly with general mangers and employees in nine of Ralmax’s industrial companies.

Charlotte Sibbitt has worked retail jobs, been a paralegal, done survey work and driven a truck.

But under a massive ocean-going barge up on blocks at Point Hope Maritime shipyard, the 39-year-old transplant from Toronto has found a career and a workplace she truly enjoys.

Sibbitt handles powerful sand- and vapour-blasting equipment to clean the surfaces of ships, then uses sprayer wands to paint them.

She’s worked on hulls of almost every kind of ship over her two and a half years as a sponsored painting apprentice at Point Hope, and will earn her Red Seal credentials after completing her training in April. The Red Seal program sets common standards for tradespeople in Canada.

“I love it. I think I found my niche, especially with the ­blasting,” Sibbitt said over her lunch break at Point Hope, adding no two jobs are the same, which keeps things ­interesting.

“With some of the other jobs I’ve done, everything has a system. But here, every boat that comes in has a different spec on what they want done, so you’re learning something new every day.”

The shipyard, one of the Ralmax Groups of Companies that operates on Victoria Harbour, has about 100 employees and offers jobs and apprenticeship sponsorships for a variety of trades.

On Sunday, Point Hope is holding a job fair and open house between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to attract more people to the trades, where they can earn up to $80,000 a year. Tours are open to the public, and prospective workers will be able to speak directly with general managers and ­employees in nine of Ralmax’s industrial companies.

Overall, the Ralmax Group of Companies has about 300 unionized employees in its 11 firms, ranging from fabrication and concrete to heavy duty mechanics and recycling.

It says it’s looking to hire more employees not only for the shipyard but across its groups of companies and can take on up to a dozen sponsored apprenticeships every year.

Ralmax says it hired three workers in the shipyard alone this week, including a welder and two metal fabricators. United Engineering, another shipyard company, is looking for welders.

Ralmax, which currently has 16 job openings, including seven in trades, noted that shipyard jobs depend on the number of ships in for work and there are times when workers are transfered to drydock work at CFB Esquimalt or are laid off temporarily.

For Sibbitt, a career at Point Hope is about earning better, more consistent wages, but the job also brings personal satisfaction.

Sibbitt said she left Ontario looking for a “fresh start” and joined Point Hope as a general labourer before becoming an apprentice painter. The move brought her closer to her father, Rex, who died five years ago after spending his life restoring antique furniture.

“It makes me feel closer to him being here and I feel he would be super proud,” she said. “I used to be his machine and help him move a lot of stuff. I used to say I don’t want to take over the business and then ­somehow I ended up with something similar, and now I realize I really do love [restoring] things.”

Sibbitt is one of six women working at Point Hope and among the several sponsored apprentices who are combining school and work to fast-track their credentials and careers.

Marcus Appenheimer, 18, is graduating from high school at Spectrum this month. He is taking heavy duty mechanics at Camosun College and working at a Ralmax mechanics shop, Nixon Brothers, which keeps fleets of gravel and cement trucks on the roads.

Ethan Monaghan, 20, attended a Point Hope job fair two years ago and was hired as an apprentice almost immediately with Ralmax Fleet Services.

“I want to learn everything I can, and this is a great place to do it,” said Monaghan, whose tasks range from fixing chainsaws and replacing glass in vehicles to working on trucks and a 150-tonne crane.

Ian Maxwell, president of the Ralmax Group of ­Companies, sees the consortium of industrial businesses as a school where workers can earn their ­credentials and move around to different fields to find the right fit.

“We can teach you anything here,” said Maxwell. “If you want to be a welder, a pipe fitter … whatever. But we can’t teach work ethic.”

Maxwell said those who show initiative and do well at their jobs can go far.

Bryan Salema is now production manager of Point Hope but started out as a general labourer in 2008.

Salema had moved to ­Victoria from Kitimat that year and was riding his bicycle past the ­shipyard to a construction job downtown when he decided to apply as a labourer.

“I thought it was an interesting place, so I applied,” said Salema.

He started doing paint and steel preparation and general cleanups and moved up to become lead hand with the paint team and eventually project boss — and now production manager.

He oversees the entire yard, including hiring and supervising all the projects in the yard.

“We have pipe fitters, ­plumbers, labourers, crane operators, millwrights … there’s lots of job opportunities here,” said Salema.

Doug Hahn, a lead-hand dock master who has been at the shipyard for nearly 20 years, said there are 46 workers at the yard who started out as general labourers and have moved up to higher positions and better wages.

Maxwell said workers can take their credentials in any direction they want at the ­Ralmax Group. “We got people that have taken two or three Red Seals,” he said. “We’ve got carpenters who have become crane operators. You can move around. All of our management of our companies have come from different roles in the past.”

Maxwell said a Red Seal is a stepping stone, not the end result — unless you want it to be. “If you want to be a welder, be the best welder you can. But if you want to be a shop foreman or take fabricating, that’s OK, too.”

That’s what makes Point Hope an attractive employer, said ­Sibbitt. “Once you have that ticket, the door is open and the options are endless.”

“I’m wondering how much my body is going to take in another 10 to 15 years climbing under ships and through tanks … right now, I’m great and loving it … but the fact there are opportunities to do other things and the company is willing to support that, it’s great.”

Maxwell said Point Hope is a training ground for Red Seal trades and a generator of higher incomes for employees. “We train people and put them into the community, that’s our role and our privilege,” he said. “We can help people earn good incomes, pay their taxes and raise families, and that supports the whole community.”

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