By Rick Garrick
Red Rock Indian Band’s Darrell Wawia is leading the way for Fisher Powerline Construction Ltd. (FPC), an Aboriginally-owned company based in Fort McMurray, AB, to provide services in northwestern Ontario.
“We are here to get involved not only in the transmission and distribution builds local to northwestern Ontario, but also the heavy industrial electrical/process operations, construction and maintenance that is found within industry in northwestern Ontario, which includes TransCanada (Corp.) pump stations, pulp and paper mills and the mining sector,” says Wawia, construction manager at FPC’s Thunder Bay office. “We build power lines and maintain them, both energized and de-energized. We also go after the (operations and maintenance) part of the job.”
Wawia says the Thunder Bay office was established about one year ago at 138B Mission Rd. in Fort William.
“We’re slowly getting our footprint here — I’ve been spending a lot of time making my partnerships,” Wawia says. “Being that we’re Aboriginally-owned and operated, I’ve been reaching out to communities and letting them know who we are and what we’re about, that we’re here for the long-term. We’re here to be part of the community and to provide gainful employment … by way of power line and electrical apprenticeships as well as equipment operators.”
Wawia says he got involved in two different apprenticeships after completing high school.
“I grew up in the Nipigon area and right out of high school I did my apprenticeship with Ontario Hydro,” Wawia says. “Then I moved on to do my electrical apprenticeship out of Thunder Bay as well. Since then I’ve branched out and worked in Western Canada and Eastern Canada and down into the United States.”
Wawia says FPC encourages staff to obtain dual apprenticeships.
“If a young man or a young woman starts an apprenticeship with us, our goal is to train them from the ground level to journeyman status and lead them into positions where they can be our new leadership,” Wawia says. “We promote the dual tickets, so if they want to start another trade once they are done their current trade, we promote that from within.”
Wawia says many of the youth he meets during visits to the communities across northwestern Ontario do not know what an apprenticeship is.
“So there are a lot of questions and queries about what an apprenticeship actually is,” Wawia says, noting that youth in Ontario need to be Grade 12 graduates to enrol in an apprenticeship. “We explain to (the youth) that you’re basically paid to learn on the job. You’ve got so many hours in the field that you have to accumulate and you have so many hours of schooling that you have to accumulate per year. Every trade is different and every province is different as to how that works, but most likely you’ll end up with an inter-provincial ticket that allows you to (work) across Canada.”
Wawia adds that the power line apprenticeship takes four years and the electrical apprenticeship takes five years.
“We maintain between 80 and 120 full-time staff (across the country), but we ramp up and ramp down according to projects,” Wawia says. “On one of the last bigger projects we had upwards of 350 staff on.”
Wawia says people who are interested in pursuing an apprenticeship can reach him at the office at 138B Mission Rd. or through the FPC website at: www.fisherplc.ca. Some of FPC’s major clients are Suncor Energy Inc., Syncrude Canada Ltd., Cenovus Energy, Shell Canada Ltd., Nexen – A CNOOC Ltd. Company, ATCO Electric, TransAlta and FortisAlberta.