The Sturgeon Refinery welcomed the first 11 graduates of Women Building Futures’ (WBF’s) Ironworker Readiness class yesterday.

A partnership between WBF, the North West Redwater Partnership (NWR) and the Alberta Ironworkers Apprenticeship and Training Plan (Local 720), the program aims to fill a gap in the availability of skilled tradespeople that the refinery will need as it progresses through Phase 1 construction.

Women Building Futures, North West Redwater Partnership and Local 720 welcomed the first graduating class of female apprentice ironworkers to the NWR Sturgeon Refinery project in Sturgeon County on Thursday. Photo credit: Aaron Parker

“It is our pleasure to welcome these talented and dedicated women into the Sturgeon Refinery workforce,” said Ian MacGregor, president and chair of NW Refining Inc., 50 per cent partner in NWR, which paid the tuition for the overall program.

Employment at the refinery is provided in partnership with contractors Fluor and PCL Industrial Constructors Inc.

“As construction continues, it is our hope that this first graduating class will be able to stake their claim in the long-lasting and meaningful legacy that this project will leave on our province,” MacGregor said yesterday at an event to welcome the graduates.

It’s a legacy that has been a long time coming. Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said: “I’m old enough, [that] when I was looking at careers there weren’t as many choices for women as there are now. I come from a trades family, so my dad’s journeyman wages got me through university, so I’ve always been a big fan of trades. I think there’s so many opportunities for women now. I would absolutely be looking at the trades if I was 20 again.”

The recruitment process for the program began last November, with an emphasis on appealing to aboriginal women and women in communities around the Sturgeon Refinery. Training started with a series of courses through WBF, an organization focused on helping women navigate entry into and success in the trades, then Local 720 provided hands-on skills training in preparation for the ironworking apprenticeships. 

“Local 720 is thrilled to have played a role in training this graduating class as they develop new skillsets and take control of their future,” said Scott Papineau, apprenticeship co-ordinator and training instructor with Local 720.

And the graduates are indeed excited about their future careers as ironworkers.

“This is the best course,” said Ramona Standingontheroad, one of the 11 graduates. “It’s life-changing…. My family’s very supportive of this, and they’re all proud.”