Skills-training funds buoy Victoria's Point Hope shipyard

A small funding announcement for skills training at Point Hope Shipyards Wednesday won’t do much for the 50 workers who formed the backdrop for Premier Christy Clark’s news conference.

But the $305,000 that will be split between Camosun College and the British Columbia Institute of Technology is being heralded as a timely gift by the man behind Point Hope and the Ralmax group of companies.

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“The announcement today is a gift to me personally … we are at the point where we are going to double Point Hope’s capacity, so we will need to increase our staff quite dramatically,” said Ralmax president and chief executive Ian Maxwell.

The funding will open 60 training positions at the two schools.

Camosun will get $155,000 for 28 spaces in the entry-level shipbuilding and ship-repair program in partnership with the Industrial Marine Training and Applied Research Centre. BCIT gets $150,000 for 32 spaces in the marine fitter specialty program for apprentices and journeymen.

It all means new skilled tradespeople in a few years, who Maxwell said will be needed at Point Hope. The shipyard at capacity employs more than 125.

Point Hope, which currently has five vessels in its Upper Harbour shipyard, has hit full capacity four times in the last year and hasn’t had any serious gaps in more than a year.

In fact, both Point Hope and sister company United Engineering are turning away work.

Maxwell intends to expand, doubling the capacity for Point Hope as soon as possible, meaning between 150 and 300 new jobs.

Ralmax, which includes Point Hope, United Engineering, Harjim Enterprises and Island Plate and Steel, owns property it can use to the south of the shipyard.

That land is currently being leased to PCL during Johnson Street Bridge construction. With the bridge delayed, Maxwell hopes to start using that land.

“They are actually going to move off the site, and we are encouraging them to move completely in the next few months. We will offer them other lay-down areas when they come back. If we can do that, we will be on our way to get a development permit from the city,” Maxwell said.

The plan is to build a new United Engineering building and offices for all Ralmax companies on that site, then tear down the existing buildings to make room for as many as four more spur lines, used to move ships out of the water and around when in the yard.

There are also longer-term plans for a graving dock to handle much larger vessels.

“That lets us double our capacity; then everyone is on track and we’re not turning away work,” said Maxwell. “Part of the problem with turning away work is not just the work. It’s the relationships we are trying to build, telling them we can be the service provider of choice for certain companies.”

During Wednesday’s announcement Clark said ship repair and shipbuilding are central to a growing economy, and noted $10 billion is expected to be invested in the sector in the next five years.

She also suggested there could be as many as 4,000 jobs available.

“Our government is matching training to in-demand jobs such as those at the shipyards in Victoria and Vancouver so graduates are connected with opportunities close to home,” she said.

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