The Right Spark for Selkirk College Welding Alumna

February 23, 2022
Welding Program alumna Yana Woods at the Kootenay Lake Ferry project site

A bustling jobsite along the Nelson shoreline features several Selkirk College graduates who are helping build the new Kootenay Lake ferry. Youth Train in Trades alumna Yana Woods is one of the recent grads now working on apprenticeship hours and gaining valuable experience with Western Pacific Marine.

Yana Woods has set sail on a career in the trades that is putting all she learned in the Selkirk College Welder Foundation Program to the test. And she’s loving every minute of it.

Entering the first step of her formal training at Selkirk College through the Youth Train in Trades (YTT) Program, Woods graduated from the 28-week Welder Foundation Program (C Level) last summer when she was only 17. A star student, she quickly found a job with Western Pacific Marine as a member of the crew building the new $63 million Kootenay Lake ferry along Nelson’s eastern shoreline.    

“I feel very fortunate to find a job locally right out of school,” says Woods. “I never expected to be in the ship building part of the trade, but so far, I really like it. It’s really nice to have a job so close to home and be working on a project with such an awesome view of the lake!”

Woods grew up in Winlaw in a family with deep roots in the trades. Her grandfather is a welder and electrician, her father is a lineman and getting your hands dirty is a family trait. Driving heavy equipment around the farm and working outside with her brothers put Woods on an inevitable trajectory towards trades training, but it wasn’t until she was at Mount Sentinel Secondary that she found the spark for her eventual pathway.

“I did my first weld in high school with a little project,” Woods says. “Once I laid my first bead, it was amazing… it was a rush, it was like fireworks exploding.”

Reworking her final two years of high school so she could take part in the YTT Program, Woods was in the classrooms and shop spaces of Nelson’s Silver King Campus by the start of 2021 earning her C-Level Welding ticket. Embarking on the first stage of the welding trade process, Woods now has her sights set on apprenticeship hours and further formal post-secondary training that will lead to the ultimate outcome of Red Seal designation.

Vital Experience for a Career in the Trades

Targeted to set sail on the main lake between Balfour and Kootenay Bay in 2023, the new 55-car ferry will replace the soon-to-be-retired MV Balfour that was built in 1954. The ferry will be electric-ready with both diesel and electric motors.

Kevin Thorsen is the Eco HD Project Manager for Western Pacific Marine who is helping the growing team, that currently consists of more than 30 tradespeople, execute the task of constructing the first inland electric ferry to be built in Canada. With more than three decades of experience building ships all over Canada and across the world, Thorsen has hired several Selkirk College alumni for the project that is bringing dozens of well paying jobs to the region.

Thinking back to his early days in the trades fresh out of Nanaimo’s Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University), Thorsen understands the importance of getting off to the right start. As he helps provide the same opportunities he was given, Thorsen stresses the secret to success is knowledge and passion for the task at hand.

“It comes down to work ethic, not being afraid to try something and not saying ‘no’ to new challenges,” Thorsen says. “Yana is the kind of person who will give it a try and always works hard, she is a problem solver and self-starter. When you are young and on a big crew like this, the foremen can’t be holding people by the hand. If they run into troubles or don’t understand, the more experienced people are happy to help.”

Mentors Through the Generations

On a recent visit to the Western Pacific Marine jobsite, Selkirk College Welding Program instructor Colin Makeiv was filled with both his own memories of waterfront construction and excitement for the familiar faces of former students he helped mentor in the shops of the Silver King Campus.

A Selkirk College alumnus himself, Makeiv got his first shot at building apprenticeship hours and welding skills with Woods’s grandfather in 1989. A veteran of the industry, Makeiv eventually ended up working on the last major shipbuilding project in Nelson just up the shoreline from the current site. Makeiv was a foreman and then worked in quality control for the Osprey 2000 ferry that was launched on Kootenay Lake in July 2000.

An instructor at Selkirk College for more than 20 years, Makeiv is heartened to see several of his former students getting a shot on a major project that has so many exciting elements of the trades incorporated into one site.

“I love my trade and that’s why I teach it,” Makeiv says. “When you see that same passion in students like Yana who begin to work in the trades, it’s very satisfying. When you spend six or seven months with these students in the shops and classrooms, there is a bond that is formed and you really want them to excel.”

Passion for Learning Essential

One of the youngest members of the Western Pacific crew at the Nelson site, over the last few months Woods has had the opportunity to expand her on-the-job education and earn additional tickets. From plowing the yard with the bobcat to rigging the cranes, she doesn’t hesitate to chip in where she can and continually develop new skills.

“It’s been great experience so far and there is so much you can learn while on the jobsite,” Woods says. “If you want to be an excellent tradesperson, you should have knowledge and experience in all aspects of your trade and other trades.”

For young people considering a career in the trades, Woods offers these wise words.

“It’s not always fun, it’s minus-17 and you are working outside,” says Woods, who wears her grandfather’s welding beanie while on the job. “It’s not always a glorious job, but if you have a passion for what you are doing and like working with your hands, then it’s just fine. You should pursue what you love… as they say, do what you love and call it work.”

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Yana Woods at the Western Pacific Marine site on the eastern edge of Nelson. A graduate of the Youth Train in Trades Program, the Winlaw resident is gaining valuable hours for her Red Seal journey and deeper insights into her chosen career.

Providing opportunities for Selkirk College trades graduates, the bustling Western Pacific Marine jobsite along the shores of Kootenay Lake in Nelson is where a new $63 million ferry is currently being constructed. Taking a pause from a recent tour of the site is: (L-R) Selkirk College Welding Program Instructor Colin Makeiv, Selkirk College Welder Foundation Program grad and Western Pacific Marine employee Yana Woods, and Western Pacific Marine Eco HD Project Manager Kevin Thorsen.