Carpentry apprentice Levi Schwarzer keeps a steady hand on his finishing work during a cold and damp West Kootenay spring day at a residential building site in Rossland. For just over a year, the 20-year-old has been putting in valuable training hours as a member of the Jinjoe Construction team and has been an integral part of completing several projects.
“It’s really nice when you help build that first house,” says Schwarzer. “You go from nothing, just a dirt lot, to it being fully finished. Being there from step-one to when the people move in, it’s awesome.”
Warfield’s Jinjoe Construction is one of the West Kootenay companies that helps Selkirk College trades students earn their Red Seal ticket. (L-R) Apprentice Levi Schwarzer, company owner Jonathan Jinjoe and carpentry journeyperson James Benson are currently working on a residential retrofit in Rossland.
Schwarzer enrolled in the 24-week Selkirk College Carpentry Foundation Program shortly after graduating from Trail’s JL Crowe Secondary. At first he saw the trade as the best way to earn a decent wage quickly, but it soon became much more. As he gets set to head back to the classroom in September to continue his formal training at Selkirk College’s Silver King Campus that he hopes will eventually lead to his Red Seal ticket, Schwarzer is emboldened by his first stint as an apprentice.
“You learn so much on the job,” he says. “The training I received at Selkirk College was the right start and now I’m feeling really good about my future in this trade.”
The Importance of Apprentices
Jonathan Jinjoe grew up in Nelson watching his carpenter father contribute to the local economy as a small residential contractor. Though he had an inkling to become an accountant, helping his dad in the summer made him realize that the trades are a challenging and rewarding career.
After completing his apprenticeship in 1998, Jinjoe worked for a large company in Vancouver for six years helping with major projects at the University of British Columbia and the upscale British Properties. Fifteen years ago, he returned to the West Kootenay and started Jinjoe Construction in Warfield offering general contracting, project management, residential, commercial and renovations.
“I would never be where I am today without my Red Seal ticket,” says Jinjoe. “The way trades are going in the future, when it comes to the real training you get, the Red Seal is vital. You don’t get the formal training in the field, it’s about understanding the math and the process behind what you do.”
Jinjoe has a steady crew of five and always makes sure he has at least one apprentice. Over the years he has helped three carpenters through their entire apprenticeship and watched them earn their Red Seal. Though filling the role as an on-site mentor requires patience, he finds the process rewarding.
“If we don’t invest in our workforce for the future, it’s going to have huge economic impacts,” says Jinjoe. “If we don’t have the ability to have skilled people that can build houses and buildings, and understand how to do it properly, then our standards are going to drop, we will have more issues with contracts and we will not be able to build structures. It costs money to train people, but at the end of day it’s worth it.”
Building a Future Workforce at Selkirk College
The carpentry trade has a lot to do with process and thinking ahead to ensure an entire project comes together. Jinjoe welcomes young and enthusiastic apprentices to his crew because he wants to pass on the knowledge he has gained over the years to help people find a fulfilling and desired career.
“It’s always something to fall back on, you will always have that skill and it’s a valuable skill,” he says. “Times get hard and economies are up-and-down, but people will always need a place to live and they will need carpenters to do the work.”
The next intake for the Selkirk College Carpentry Foundation Program is August 8, 2017. Students in this important first step engage in a variety of classroom and shop activities. The 24-week program prepares learners for entry level positions as apprentice carpenters and the 450 work-based hours at the Silver King Campus are applied toward the on-the-job apprenticeship component of the Red Seal journey.
“Whether your goal is to become a journeyperson, a contractor, a superintendent, or pick up a tonne of valuable skills that will last you a lifetime, the foundation program is a great place to start,” says Selkirk College Carpentry Instructor Craig McCallum. “It’s extremely rewarding to watch students’ progress through the program and become individuals that contractors want on their job sites.”