Published On: Monday, 04 June 2018

Aquaculture Technicians Netting Jobs Thanks to Excel

Aquaculture Technicians Netting Jobs Thanks to Excel

COURTENAY - When aquaculture companies go fishing for employees, they turn to Courtenay’s Excel Career College.

The college, founded by President Pauline Stevenson, will celebrate 30 years of career and industry training next year.

Stevenson states that “the college started by providing professional development and relevant skills training. We work with each student and see them demonstrate competence and confidence in each skill.”

“Our organization identifies industries that have workforce shortages, and train specifically for the industries in need,” says Director Michelle Konkle.

Excel Career College is designated with the Private Training Institutions Branch under the Ministry of Advanced Education, and maintains representation with the BC Career Colleges Association, the BC Salmon Farmers Association, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and Education Quality Assurance for accepting international students.

“99 per cent of our students will take our program and go straight into the workforce,” says Konkle. “Our training is extremely career specific, and we teach material that our students will need, keeping it practical and relevant.”

The college is constantly re-evaluating their training programs through community networking, ensuring that the training they offer is always relevant to the Industry.

“With the growing demand in the aquaculture industry, we’ve been specializing in aquaculture for the last seven years. We are by far the leading aquaculture trainers in BC, if not Canada, and are the most sought after by employers,” says Konkle.

In the last seven years, Excel Career College has trained well over 200 aquaculture technicians through their Aquaculture Technician Diploma Program.

“We have a lot of graduates working in hatcheries, the shellfish industry, some who have found employment in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and even with BC Ferries,” says Konkle.

“People don’t realize that there is a lot more in the field than fish farms.”

Excel Career College graduates are sought-after hires, especially because the institution has a program advisory committee comprised of some of the industry’s key employers.

“We regularly sit down with them to make sure that our curriculum is always current and relevant to the industry,” she says. “We want the best prepared graduates possible, so any feedback they give is considered and applied quickly.”

Konkle cites one example where employers were asking that more knot tying training be added to the program. The request was applied to the curriculum almost instantly.

“The specific training we offer saves employers a lot of time and resources. Employers experience drastic reductions in turnover rates, because the graduates have a better orientation to the industry,” she says. The Aquaculture Technician Diploma is 500 hours in total, with 23 weeks of classroom training followed by a practicum placement. With a maximum class size of 12, students have direct personal access to their instructors, and are able to get the assistance they need.

Excel Career College also works with First Nations communities helping Nation members find meaningful work close to home.

“Our students visit hatcheries, volunteer on stream restoration and enhancement projects, and are involved in a wide variety of aquaculture events,” says Konkle. “They get a lot of hands-on experience in the industry, especially during their practicum period. Many employers will actually hire our graduates out of practicum relationships.”

Graduates from the program can be found in many major aquaculture companies, including Robertson Creek Hatchery, Grieg Seafood, Cermaq Canada, Marine Harvest, Seed Science, Creative Salmon, and Fanny Bay Oysters.

Alumni of the Aquaculture Technician Diploma program aren’t restricted to working in fish or shellfish farms. “There are a lot of subsidiary companies that are connected to aquaculture that people don’t even think about including facilities that do processing or net mending,” says Konkle.

For the staff at Excel, training aquaculture technicians is about more than just filling needs in the job market. “The industry is growing so fast because humans are eating seafood at an unsustainable rate. If we don’t invest in hatcheries and farms, we will run out of this important food source,” says Konkle.

“We’ve received dozens of letters of support from employers and government organizations commending what we do.”

This includes a letter of support from Employment and Social Development Canada, where Excel is praised for partnerships “that involve employer engagement.”

A 2014 letter from Dave Byng, former Deputy Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, states that the BC Government “greatly appreciate[s] the efforts of provide training that meet[s] BC’s skills training needs.”

As Excel Career College has a rich history of meeting workforce demands, they are well suited for the task of bolstering this growing market.

“Our training has become the benchmark for the industry,” says Konkle. “We’re currently working with two of the biggest employers in aquaculture to develop in-house professional development training programs for their staff. We’re also approved trainers through Transport Canada for providing marine training programs.”