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Updates planned to Vancouver Community College’s steel detailing certificate

Peter Caulfield
Updates planned to Vancouver Community College’s steel detailing certificate

Organizers of Canada’s only steel detailing training program say its courses are being brought up to date.

As part of its modernization, the program offered by Vancouver Community College (VCC) in downtown Vancouver recently changed its name from steel detailing to steel construction modelling.

“We made the name change to better reflect our focus on 3D modelling and what the industry is already doing,” said Ron Palma, a steel construction modelling technician instructor at VCC. “We also wanted to make the program sound more attractive to prospective students. Detailing sounded too much like washing cars.”

Palma says steel detailers/modellers don’t have a high profile and the nature of their work is not well known to everyone.

The technicians prepare detailed plans, drawings and other documents for the manufacture and erection of steel members (e.g. columns, beams, braces, trusses, stairs, handrails, joists and metal decking) that are used to construct buildings, bridges, industrial plants and non-building structures.

Aspiring detailers/modellers at VCC begin by learning basic drafting skills on AutoCAD. After completing that stage of their training, they move into the steel construction modelling specialty.

The program takes students through traditional steel detailing, such as creating various steel detailing drawings.


The program includes more than 325 hours of training on Tekla Structures,

— Ron Palma

Vancouver Community College


They learn about bolting, welding and working with the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC) Steel Construction Handbook and fabricator standards.

And they apply the skills they’ve learned in class on various commercial and industrial projects.

After they’ve finished their training and obtained their certificate from VCC, most steel detailers/modellers find employment with steel fabricators, engineering firms or independent steel detailing companies.

VCC’s 10-month Steel Construction Modelling certificate program, as it is now called, runs from September to June.

Palma says the revamped program, apart from the name change, will feature an increase in software training, from six to 13 weeks.

“The program includes more than 325 hours of training on Tekla Structures (which is advanced structural BIM software), which was donated to us by the Burnaby, B.C. office of BuildingPoint Canada Inc.,” he said.

In addition, the program has added training on Bluebeam software, which designs tools for creating, editing, marking up, collaborating and sharing PDF documents.

“We’re also going to be making the technical writing course more comprehensive, so that it includes writing such materials as emails, RFIs (requests for information) and change orders,” said Palma.

The new and improved steel detailing/modelling program is also going to update the layout geometry course and add some management courses. 

“It’s a busy, fast-paced course,” said Palma. “Because of COVID-19, everything is online now. When the pandemic hit Vancouver back in March (2020), we made a quick switch from classroom instruction to virtual teaching and it went off without a hitch.”

Course capacity in the 2020-21 academic year is 18, growing to 36 in 2021.

“In the next academic year there will be 18 students from Monday to Wednesday, and a different 18 between Thursday and Saturday,” said Palma. “And to teach them all I’ll have the assistance of two other instructors.”

Demand for graduates of the program is high. Students come from not just B.C.’s Lower Mainland, but also the rest of Canada and all over the world.

“We’ve been marketing the program hard,” said Palma. “And we’ve partnered with the CISC to help promote the program.”

The popularity of the VCC program notwithstanding, most detailers are still trained on the job, and that training can take many years.

An aspiring steel detailer/modeller should take the VCC course, says Gino Pezzente, global general manager — bridges, at DBM Vircon (“virtual construction”) in New Westminster.

“Even after you’ve learned the fundamentals, it still takes years to really learn the trade and understand it,” said Pezzente. “Thanks to the new technology, steel detailing has become a bigger part of the entire engineering process.”

There are steel detailing companies across Canada, but most are located in the Lower Mainland.

“Detailers came to Vancouver from the U.K., Europe and more recently from countries on the Pacific Rim, so that today it’s a North American steel detailing centre,” said Pezzente. “There are about half a dozen big detailing companies plus several smaller ones and there are many steel fabrication shops here that employ detailers.”

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