Every skilled tradesperson needs to start somewhere, but Starla Penner and Kya Teneycke are beginning their trades careers at the massive LNG Canada project in Kitimat, B.C.
The $40-billion liquefied natural gas plant now under construction is the single largest private sector construction project in Canadian history and is expected to employ 4,500 people at the peak of activity.
Both women are graduates of the YOUR PLACE workforce development program for women. The program was implemented by prime contractor JGC Fluor and LNG Canada to break down barriers for women considering a career in the trades. The four-week training program, offered at Kitimat Valley Institute (KVI), is completely free to successful B.C. applicants, including tuition, safety equipment, transportation and accommodation.
Penner and Teneycke were among the dozen women who were part of the program’s first graduating class in early December 2019. The celebrations were necessarily short – recruiters were already on the premises waiting to interview the grads for potential placement.
Penner, 39, lives in nearby Terrace. She’d focused on raising her children, ages eight to 17, and was working part-time prior to taking the course. With the encouragement of her husband and kids, she applied for the program through a Facebook ad.
“I went through the list of potential trades and decided on electrical work, which worked best for our family and seemed really interesting to me,” she says. “It also provides the most opportunities to work locally long term, from commercial to residential.”
By January, she was working as an electrical apprentice for Integral Energy Services on Cedar Valley Lodge, the workforce housing community for LNG Canada.
“I’ve been doing everything from pulling cable to putting up lights and running power,” she says. “There’s a wide variety of work and you never stop learning. It’s exciting and I love it. You hear intimidating stories about women in the trades, but that has not been my experience. Everybody is respectful and friendly and I always feel safe. The crew here looks out for me and wants me to succeed.”
Penner’s oldest son Gabe has already been inspired by his mother to pursue a career as an electrician.
Teneycke is 21 and lives in Kitimat. Although she’s designated as non-status, she says her ancestors were Haisla, the First Nation on whose traditional territory the LNG Canada project is being built.
Chopping wood for her uncle years ago gave her an appreciation for carpentry work, the trade she chose to pursue. Formerly working at an industrial supply store, she graduated with Penner and is now employed by Bird Construction, also working as an apprentice on Cedar Valley Lodge.
She started out assembling scaffolds and doing carpentry support work for drywall installers and is progressing toward more intricate tasks.
“It’s been a crazy five months,” she says. “But I love carpentry.”
She says she’s inspired by seeing the daily progress on the project,
“Every time I come back from my week off, it looks completely different. Seeing it unfold before my eyes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
There are several women employed on her work team and she regularly meets Penner as their paths cross on the lodge project.
“As a woman, I never feel uncomfortable,” she says. “The whole crew likes to joke around and you just become one of the team. That’s what you really want.”
Her advice to young women entering the construction field: “Be confident and know who you are. It’s OK to be nervous, but don’t be scared. A career in construction is not at all scary and you belong here just as much as everyone else.”