Carpenters can be a ‘certified’ success

“When I was coming up through the trade, journeymen carpenters were these grey-haired ninjas … Yodas,” says Bill Johnstone, a Whitehorse carpenter. “But I’ve worked with journeymen who are 26. Some of the younger guys have the schooling, but not the workplace smarts, so there is some give and take.”

More and more it is becoming important to have that certification to get work on large jobs and industrial jobs.

So, Johnstone has been spending his Friday nights and Saturdays in a classroom with 14 other students to learn what they need to challenge the Red Seal exam.

Each of them need 9,600 hours of experience and a passing grade to become certified. “Camp jobs are more accessible when you have a Red Seal,” says Johnstone. “And, if the local economy slows down, I have more options. “I can earn more … if I am working for the union, it is $3 more. When I start with a contractor, I have to prove what I know, so there is a starting wage and then they bump you up.”

Johnstone has been a full-time carpenter — “Uncertified,” he corrects — since 2003.

He moved to Whitehorse from Gibsons, B.C. in 2010 to be close to family. He has worked on a mixed-residential project in Mount Sima and for a contractor, building condos. He is now working on a restoration job at the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat.

So, what can a course like this teach someone like him? “Math,” says Johnstone. “Roof math: valleys and gables and intersecting gables and truss design. “Things like roof math and the more technical aspects of stair math are worth the cost of the course right there,” he says.

The last time he was a student in a classroom was in 1988. He is now faced with 400 pages of reading … and counting. “It is surprisingly tiring,” says Johnstone. “Eight straight hours of thinking; I do a physical job, but the intellectual part is exhausting. “Yes carpenters think, but I miss the moving.”

Richard Dickenson, a lead instructor with Integrated Carpentry Tutorials, introduces the math in the first weekend so that the students can come to grips with it over the next six weeks.

The whiteboard behind him has a series of angles and numbers that would not look out of place in a university physics classroom. “It’s an intensive course,” says Dickenson. “But it is not insurmountable. “It’s not really that tough when you break it down into bite-sized chunks. In school, they teach an abstract concept with no real application to a real-world scenario. I’ve changed that around by taking out the math they don’t need, focused on the math they do need, and then simplified the process for them to get through the test. “I get feedback from my guys and I know they are going out the next day and applying those skills immediately. “I love my job. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from helping guys who, particularly, have been struggling with math. Helping them brush up and apply new skills every day just makes a big difference in their lives. “And personal lives, too: their confidence levels are just enormous.”

Johnstone and his classmates will be writing the Red Seal exam after the May long weekend. So, Dickenson has added Sunday sessions for more training. “It is optional,” says Johnstone. “But I don’t think anyone is going to pass up on it.”

Dickenson says the next course will be offered in the fall. There is already a waiting list of up to 30 people, but he will only accept 15 to help keep his attention on each student.

However, people should still apply because not everyone will be available for that course. And Dickenson says he will keep offering the course until he has reached everyone.

Information on the course is available form Jeff Sloychuk, an organizer with the Yukon Carpenters Union Local 2499, which is splitting the cost of the program with participants. Phone 667-6682.

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