SURREY, B.C. – If you have spent the day splashing around at Cultus Lake Water Slides or been kept warm and dry waiting for your train at Metrotown Station in Burnaby, B.C. you have reaped the benefits of the work performed by Solid Rock Steel in Surrey.
On Sept. 13, Solid Rock and many other steel fabricators opened their doors to give the public a glimpse of how the bones of Canada’s steel structures are made.
“In 1965 my dad was a Dutch immigrant. he took up the steel industry as a trade in Holland and when he got to Canada, he had a large, growing family and someone suggested he should start his own business,” said Peter Steunenberg, Solid Rock Steel president. “In 1965 he started his own fabrication shop and 54 years later we are still here going strong.”
The full-service company specializes in supplying, painting and installing custom structural steel. They have worked on transit station steel for the West Coast Express and Canada Lines and recently upgrades to the Metrotown SkyTrain station.
“We are a union shop, shop fabrication and we do install our own steel as well, and then we have our office which is detailers, estimators, project managers and admin,” said Steunenberg. “We try to give full service and not sub out to various trades so we will try to do the whole job for you.”
While Steunenberg described Solid Rock as a small to mid-sized shop that relies on local projects, it is hoping to grow beyond Metro Vancouver and B.C. But branching out to larger projects is made difficult by offshore competition.
“Steel fabricators in Canada face the challenge of off-shore competition in Canada,” he said. “Recently Canada LNG and Woodfibre LNG got released from Canada’s sanctions and they are sourcing straight from China, which, for example, hurts Canadian fabricators. I am a smaller, mid-sized shop. How can I grow if I don’t have those opportunities on big projects?”
Another challenge is finding people to do the work.
“The concern over skilled labour is huge,” said Steunenberg. “I depend on skilled labour. My fabricators and ironworkers have to be highly skilled. We do custom work. And so as we are aging … it is a challenge finding new young people who want to get involved in construction of fabricating industries.”
He depends on the union to help supply labour, but also is trying to drum up interest with college students and young apprentices. For steel day a bus of B.C. Institute of Technology students came by to tour the shop.
While the Solid Rock shop has some CNC equipment, Steunenberg likes to save room for fabricating large structures. But it has automated saws, submerged arc welding equipment plasma table – things that were all done by hand back in the day, he explained. Now they require skilled operators.
“One of the challenges is finding operators for that equipment, because a lot of young people go to university and have other career goals, and we find that as an industry we need to challenge them to come into the shop and operate some of our fancier equipment,” he said.
Steunenberg has tried tie emphasize to young people that the opportunities in steel and construction in general are vast. He started in the shop welding, cutting and grinding. Then he moved on to drafting and estimating. Now he manages the company.
“There will always be building here in Vancouver,” he said. “We are in a great spot for construction. And I will promote all construction – not just steel. But electrical, plumbing, carpentry certainly the trades offered varied opportunities for young people.”