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Career Opportunity: A Challenging Career in the Skilled Trades

Boilermakers receive special training to work in confined spaces.

Gifted, Mechanically-Inclined Students Could Find Satisfaction in a Career as a Boilermaker

Every school counselor has met at least one: the gifted student who constantly needs new challenges, or the student who might not fit in an orthodox workplace. Those students might find what they’re looking for in a career as a Boilermaker.

Someone who likes a different, unconventional challenge every day; who likes to pick when and where they work and who wants to travel throughout Canada might be a potential Boilermaker. In return, they’ll find a career they love, excellent pay and benefits, and new friends from across Canada.

Becoming a Boilermaker means mastering one of the most skilled trades in heavy construction. Any job can provide a paycheque, but a career as a Boilermaker will bring a sense of fulfillment. It is perfect for someone who loves a challenge and being part of a team. While Boilermakers still build boilers, the scope of this skilled trade has expanded to include everything from specialty welding to moving, positioning and installing huge components of massive industrial plants, to project management and co-ordination of workers in other trades.

Wide Scope of Work

Becoming a Boilermaker means doing work that can be at the same time both intricate and gargantuan in scale. This trade is a major builder of today’s industrial revolution – in the shipyards, steel plants, mines, power plants, and military bases. Boilermakers are involved in the fabrication, installation, repair, and operation of the equipment that keeps Canada’s economic engine moving forward.

A Boilermaker’s day could include preparing and moving a plant component weighing thousands of tons, then positioning it to within fractions of an inch. It often includes the assembly of vessels and systems containing chemicals or fuel under pressure. And always, there are workarounds to figure out, other tradespeople to coordinate and the challenge of getting everything done safely, on time and on budget.

It’s not easy work. Boilermakers work in tight spaces, hundreds of feet in the air and with equipment that is weighed by the ton. They work in sweltering heat, frigid cold, and everything in between.

Boilermakers work in the energy industry, building and maintaining oil-sands extraction plants, oil refineries, liquefied natural gas processing plants, nuclear, hydroelectric and coal-fired generating stations and other facilities. They also work in the mining, chemical, pulp and paper, cement and potash industries.

Boilermakers are also at the forefront in building North America’s biggest carbon-capture and storage (CCS) facilities. These massive plants remove up to 90% of industrial carbon emissions and store them underground as solid, rock-like material. Canada now has two of the world’s largest CCS facilities and Boilermakers are building a third. Without CCS, Canada and the rest of the industrialized world won’t be able to meet the emission-reduction targets agreed to at the Paris climate-change conference.

Belong to a Union

The great majority of Canadian Boilermakers belong to a union, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Through negotiations with the many contractors that hire them, the union establishes wages and working conditions, and dispatches Boilermakers to the work sites where they’re needed. The union also works with its employers to conduct training programs in its state-of-the-art facilities across Canada.

A big part of the union’s job is protecting the health and safety of its members. The facilities Boilermakers work to build and maintain are massive, complex and potentially dangerous. Consequently, the safety programs have been carefully designed to bring awareness to the various potential hazards one may be exposed to in the shop and in the field. As a result of their commitment to safety, unionized jobsites report fewer workplace injuries than their non-union counterparts.

Ultimate Job Flexibility

Boilermakers can select their own jobs, allowing them to choose how much they work and where. The job flexibility suits people with an independent bent.

 “People who become Boilermakers love a challenge,” says Grant Jacobs, Director of the union’s national training program. “You have to be independent and ready to travel a lot. It’s not a nine-to-five job at home. You’re doing different things all day and there’s a new challenge at every job.”

Jobs often take Boilermakers hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from their homes. Boilermakers can be from the east coast and work on jobs in British Columbia and Alberta. Nowhere in Canada can you find places where Boilermakers don’t work. This career gives Boilermakers the unique opportunity to travel around the country for work, be a part of a team and bond with their fellow workers.

“The best thing about the job is the people,” says Jacobs. “You meet all kinds of people and you make strong friendships. You work closely with others as part of a team, solving difficult problems. It makes us a tighter knit group than the other trades.”

First Steps Toward a Boilermaker Career

A student who wishes to become a Boilermaker should check the union’s website (boilermaker.ca) for the contact information for the local in their area. Each local has an officer that handles new apprentices, who will enroll the student in the program.

Becoming a Boilermaker involves four years of apprenticeship training. Apprentices can earn good money during the on-the-job portion of their training. They’ll spend between 4,800-6,000 hours—three to four years—learning the trade. 720 of those hours will be spent in the classroom and the rest on the job working with experienced Boilermakers.  The classroom portion is taught at a community college, a recognized trade school or the union’s own training facilities.

During their first year, apprentices assist fully qualified Boilermakers and become familiar with the tools of the trade and the kinds of work it involves. Attitude, attendance, strength, fitness and co-ordination are important. As they progress, apprentices work on projects that become increasingly challenging. 

From their first to last year as apprentices, Boilermakers can expect hourly wages to increase from roughly $25 to $43 per hour.  Once he or she graduates, they’ll become journeyperson Boilermakers, earning top wages and benefits, including one of Canada’s best health and welfare plans and an industry-leading pension plan.

Abundant Career Opportunities

Boilermakers have plenty of opportunities for career advancement. Their advanced training programs allow apprenticeship graduates to follow many career paths including but not limited to; mechanic, welder, foreman, shop steward, safety advisor, union representative, instructor training, superintendent and project manager. After they graduate as journeypersons, their union offers continuous specialized training that ensures members are up to date with the latest methods, techniques and technology.

Becoming a Boilermaker isn’t for everyone. But for that gifted student, or a mechanically inclined young person who loves a challenge, it can offer a rewarding lifetime career. For more information, please visit the union’s website, boilermaker.ca.

Courtesy of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers


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