By Glenda McCarthy
You hear of people from this province heading to Alberta for employment opportunities but how often does the reverse happen? Baie Verte campus, on the northeast coast of the province, had this occur twice in 2014 – both instances for instructor positions for the same program. For Jim Albrect and Lee Boudier, making the move across the country to live in Newfoundland and teach the electrical program at CNA was a no brainer.
Jim had spent the last 25 years in Grand Prairie, Alberta but he was born in the remote location of Aishihik in Yukon Territory. After the family moved to the Edmonton area, Jim grew up in a rural setting and was lucky to get early start in the electrical field during in his teenage years.
“I did automotive in high school. My father, at the age of 35, decided he should become an electrician. I watched him do that and he was a travel-away dad, because where we were in a rural community there wasn’t a lot of work at the time.”
His father worked in Fort McMurray, but even when he was home he could be found working jobs and would often take Jim with him.
“I kind of grew into it. He would do some jobs and I would go help him. He figured a good way to make a living was to get a trade. He said ‘Here’s a few tools, let’s get you going.’ I had to pick something in high school, and automotive was great and interesting, but electrical was what I was guided to so that’s what I went with.”
As part of his high school experience he had to participate in a six-month work experience course. “A lot of people picked automotive but I talked to an electrical company in Saskatchewan and they agreed to have me come in and do some work.”
Ultimately it was his father’s influence that helped Jim decide to pursue electrical. In Grade 12 he worked as an electrical apprentice for a contractor and wound up apprenticing and working at both residential and commercial properties, as well as a power plant and a hospital, over the next six years.
During 1989, Jim worked in HVAC controls but once the work slowed down in Edmonton he and wife Beth relocated to Grand Prairie. In 1991, a friend recommended applying for a position with Titan electrical. At that time Titan had 850 employees and was a committed employer in the area. Jim was fortunate to land a position there and remained with the company until 2013, during which time he held a number of positions throughout the company.
At first he was hired for work in the oil patch, then he drove a service truck for three years before holding a 10-year position in the sawmill facility. During that time, Titan was bought out by Flint Energy Services so 850 employees ballooned to a staggering 10,000!
“Through my career with Flint they got gobbled up by United Research Services, which consisted of 40,000 employees. So I went from working in the field, to being the service manager – bidding on jobs, project managing, hiring/firing, looking after maintenance of vehicles. Up until 2006 I was working in electrical and then moved into the office work.”
About that time, some of his friends who had moved to the Baie Verte area 10 years previously convinced the Albrects to visit them.
“They told us about this wonderful place, showed us the pictures and convinced us to come down to see them and visit with their family, to do a bit of fishing and get out in the woods a bit. It was right up our alley. The circumstances weren’t right at the time but thought we’d like to come here one day.”
Knowing they’d eventually like to relocate to the area, they purchased a home in Seal Cove near Baie Verte, and over the course of the next couple of summers would visit a couple of times a year.
In 2008, while he was still in Alberta, Jim enrolled in a 200-hour course and received his electrical Masters certificate for Alberta. By the spring of 2013 he decided it was time to semi-retire and went into business for himself. He started the company Wiremaster Electrical, which focused on electrical work for residential and commercial properties. However, while on one of their annual trips to Newfoundland, everything changed.
“It was the last day of our holiday when my wife was getting her hair done. She heard the college might be looking for an instructor. I figured it might be a way to stay here and so I threw my name in.”
He dropped his resume off to the campus on his way to the airport. Shortly after he was offered the job he and his wife decided it was time to relocate, despite the fact he wasn’t sure if he would enjoy being an instructor.
“You know what? I wasn’t sure what I would think of it but I’m really enjoying it! The hardest thing was re-learning and trying to liven (the courses) up with videos and things. But the staff here are awesome and they welcomed us with open arms.”
Adjusting to small town life wasn’t a problem for the couple and the pace has been a nice change.
“Life in Grand Prairie is insanely busy. The difference here is people will stop and talk to you. People have time for you. Here if you see someone pulled over on side of the road you just wait for them to be done what they’re doing and then you carry on. Back in Alberta there would be a big kerfuffle because nobody has patience,” Jim says.
“We come here and everyone is still down to earth and everybody still cares about everyone. The other nice thing was that being that busy with Flint, and they morphed into URS, you never got away. You had blackberry and they had you 24/7 – the beautiful thing about the small community in Seal Cove is there is no cell service so that was awesome. So that worked very well.”
Their biggest challenges have been learning to live on a restricted budget and not seeing their kids and grandkids on a regular basis.
“That’s something I didn’t have to worry about in Alberta. We wanted to come here and the only way we could come here was with no debt or it would be more of a struggle to be here. One thing my wife and I are torn about is we have grandbabies in Grand Prairie. We have three kids. The oldest is 27 and she’s got a husband, dog, cat and three kids.”
While the Albrects want to stay in Baie Verte, Jim admits it’s a pilot project for them.
“We came down (last) April to see how it would be for three months. Should the opportunity present itself, we will stay.” However, as a backup, Jim has a contractor’s license to fall back on. The couple has two houses in Seal Cove and he put his contractor’s licence to good use and renovated their home on the water. The second house is nearing completion and the couple hopes to use it as a guest house for family or possible rent it out as a cabin.
Meanwhile Lee, who is originally from Vancouver, BC, also has her own slice of heaven in Baie Verte. She made the trek to Newfoundland and Labrador last year to also become an electrical instructor at the Baie Verte campus.
Lee became a journeyperson electrician when she was 25 after completing a four-year apprenticeship through British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). It’s safe to say being an electrician is in her blood, as her father is an electrician and her uncle an electrical engineer.
“After I left high school I started working as a legal secretary but I decided to be an electrician because I just found it more interesting.”
Lee went back to school at BCIT and spent two years working in electronics technology for the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer avionics program. In 1992, she earned an associate science degree from Douglas College, as well as a Bachelor of Education and a degree in biology from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Currently she is working on a certificate in business management and also has received certification in professional management/project management. To say she has been busy would be a huge understatement!
“After I graduated, I started working on a project in Alberta. I was an electrician and I worked with the visiting international faculty program in North Carolina for two years teaching Grade 8 math.”
Lee’s diverse career includes working with companies such as Suncor, Syncrude, and Albian Sands. During that time she did double duty as an electrician and also worked in in quality assurance/quality control, not to mention the fact she has a background as an instrumentation technician apprentice.
Before moving across the country, Lee was teaching an electrical apprenticeship program in Alberta at Lakeham College. She found out about CNA’s program online and says there were several factors that influenced her decision to move across the country.
“The cost of living and the mild climate; I love it. It reminds me of British Columbia. It’s on the coast so you’re by the ocean. It’s just gorgeous here. I visited a friend in St. John’s and I just thought it was gorgeous here so I came back to stay. Small town life is great. The people are friendly and it’s wonderful. You get to know people.”
Her son is back in Calgary attending the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and taking care of her home, but she says she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“When I was working on the oil sands projects I met a lot of people from Newfoundland and they loved it here. They could hardly wait to go home.” After seeing it first-hand, she understands where they were coming from.
“A lot of them were able to pay off their homes. It’s a lot easier to do that when you have a home base in Newfoundland compared to Edmonton or Calgary, which has one of the highest housing costs in the nation.”
It doesn’t hurt that Lee has her own slice of heaven right on the water. “I have a gorgeous view of the bay right out my living room window. I have a little yellow Labrador Retriever that I take on walks on Rattling Brook trail every afternoon and she keeps me busy.”
In the meantime, Lee splits her time between teaching at CNA and working on yet another academic designation – the Master Electrician program through the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s blended learning program. But her goal is to continue working at CNA.
“Hopefully this course here will continue on. I think it’s really great for the students to have this program under their belts because then they are really set up to go into this trade, and they would be picked up in a heartbeat by employers in Alberta.”
But she wouldn’t mind staying in Baie Verte. “There are certainly lots of opportunities here in Newfoundland,” she says.