Pre-apprenticeship gives students a head start

WHITEHORSE— At 38 years old, Richard McLeod is finally enrolled in the program he was looking for when he was 18.

“I was a backyard mechanic with my dad, so I’ve always wanted to be a heavy equipment technician,” said McLeod, a student in Yukon College’s Heavy Equipment Technician (HET) Pre-Apprenticeship Program. “It was definitely something

I searched for when I finished high school. I’m happy to have the chance now, and I think it’s a great opportunity for younger people too.”

The program is currently being offered at the College’s Dawson City campus, in a mobile trailer that travels between community campuses to facilitate opportunities like this – an 18-week pre-apprenticeship that will give McLeod a head start in the trade.

Instructor Mark Verdonk said most first-year HET programs consist of eight weeks of instruction, followed by 1,800 hours of apprentice work. The College’s pre-apprenticeship, which lasts 18 weeks, covers classroom education, but also gives students the chance to get hands-on experience in a shop on Callison Road. At the end, they can challenge the level one exams.

Verdonk said trained technicians are something the community needs at the moment.

“In Dawson, heavy equipment is definitely a trade that we need to get more people involved in,” he said. “We’re starting to run into a shortage of qualified people. Younger people aren’t coming up and people who have been in the trade for a long time are retiring.”

Verdonk’s class has attracted both – his youngest student is 17, while the oldest is 46. Verdonk said most have at least a hobbyist understanding of automotive mechanics, but coursework still begins with the basics when it comes to suspension, frames, and brake systems.

The machinery they work on includes everything from forklifts to semis, sourced from the Government of Yukon, Arctic Inland, and others. The goal is that they will gain the safety, skills, and experience to attain positions as first-year apprentices before continuing with HET levels two and three.

McLeod and his fellow students write their apprenticeship exam on June 1.