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Plant Operator Program Opens Door to Opportunity at Teck

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
February 8th, 2024

Entry into an exciting and rewarding career in the industrial sector is only a short program away at Selkirk College.

Teck Trail Operations is one of the world’s largest fully integrated zinc/lead smelting and refining complexes. To make it function on a daily basis, the intricate operation requires a community of dedicated employees with a wide variety of trades, skills and education. A foundational position at Teck is process operator, a versatile job that can be launched through the 24-week Plant Operator Program.

“Treating it as the start of something helps you be motivated to learn more and ultimately be better at your job,” says Ariel Poznikoff, a program alumna from the Class of 2016 who recently received her seven-year sticker at Teck. “If you put in effort, there are all kinds of opportunities for you here. It’s the same for the program, what you put in is what you get out.”

When Poznikoff graduated high school from Castlegar’s Stanley Humphries Secondary, she did not have her sights set on a career in heavy industry. She started in Selkirk College’s School of University Arts & Sciences, but after working in a local garden supply story decided to pursue a horticulture degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She emerged with a trusted green thumb, but found herself drawn to the process side of the sector.

The Plant Operator Program prepares students for entry level work in a variety of industrial settings ranging from wastewater treatment to hydro dams and breweries to pulp mills. Gaining knowledge and developing skills required to operate, monitor and troubleshoot control equipment, process operators are vital positions.

Poznikoff was drawn to the Selkirk College program because of its diverse curriculum and career opportunities. Once she graduated and was hired by Teck, she put her education to good use. Starting on the floor crew of the Sulfide Leeching Plant, she has filled a variety of roles. With a constant thirst for knowledge, Poznikoff has not stopped learning and is currently an operator instructor within the plant she started in.

“Learning opportunities do not end when you finish the program, it’s just the tip of iceberg,” says the 33-year-old. “Being open to continual learning opportunities is a must for working at Teck. You may end up in different plants, so you need to be willing to adapt and learn something new when it’s asked of you. It’s a very fulfilling part of working here.”

Key Partnership for Career-Ready Education

The Plant Operator Program is offered out of Nelson’s Silver King Campus where it started in the early-1990s. Partnering and in constant consultation with employers such as Teck, the program is sculpted towards providing bedrock education that suits the region’s industrial sector.

“In so many areas of our operations, Selkirk College graduates are key to our success,” says Scott Calvin, Teck’s superintendent of HR planning & talent management. “The Plant Operator Program is a great example of this synergy with well-educated graduates getting an opportunity to start careers. We put high value on our relationship with the instructors and the college.”

Julie-Claire (JC) Hamilton is the instructor who has been guiding cohorts through the Plant Operator Program since 2018. A Red Seal electrician who earned her formal education on the Silver King Campus, she began teaching the electrical portion of the Women in Trades Program in 2008. With a wealth of real-world experience and diverse knowledge of a variety of trades, Hamilton helps learners realize what is possible.

“It’s exciting when a new class begins and you get to mentor this diverse group of students who are eager to challenge themselves,” says Hamilton. “There are so many opportunities for our graduates and Teck is the ultimate destination for many of them. Having an industry partner of this scale in our backyard that supports post-secondary is so important to the overall success of our region.”

Making a Change and Joining the Family

When her two young children were making their way through elementary school in 2018, Keri Ferguson decided it was time for a change. Though she enjoyed running her own catering business in Trail, she wanted a more stable pathway.

A scan of the Selkirk College website pulled up the Plant Operator Program and though her husband worked at Teck as an operator, Ferguson had never given the career serious consideration. With support of her kids and her husband, Ferguson returned to where she had dabbled in the School of University Arts & Sciences after high school and graduated from the Professional Cook Training Program more than a decade prior.

“Selkirk College is a very supportive environment and enabled me prove to myself that I could do it,” says the 44-year-old. “With the excellent encouragement and education provided by JC, I exceeded the expectations that I had and it has given me more opportunities since I have been here. I love my job.”

A star student, Ferguson was hired straight out of the program in 2019. Like Poznikoff, her energy and desire for continual learning allowed her to move through different settings within Teck that built upon her college education. For the last two years, Ferguson has been in the role of operator instructor where she channels the positivity of her former Selkirk College mentor.

Ferguson’s roots are deeply planted in the Trail area. With Italian immigrant ancestors who arrived to the West Kootenay for new opportunities, both her grandfather and father were outside contractors who helped build many of the structures that encompass today’s Teck Trail Operations. Now part of the Teck family, she is proud to be working and continually learning in an exciting environment.

“Even as a child, I remember driving the highway and wondering what all the tubes in the that massive building were for and what happens in there,” Ferguson says with a smile. “Now I can tell you exactly what the Electrolytic and Melting Plant does. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would work here. I feel very lucky and pleased that I decided to return to Selkirk College.”

The spring intake for the Plant Operator Program cohort begins on March 11 and applications are now being accepted. You can learn more at: https://selkirk.ca/programs/industry-trades-training/plant-operator-certificate

 

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