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Plumbing and Pipe Trades students apply new skills at local recreation centre

Matt Thorneloe, 2nd year plumbing apprentice, Darren Vaux, Plumbing instructor and James Smyth, owner of Pacific Solar.

March 17, 2011

When the municipality of Saanich received a donation of solar thermal collectors, Camosun College faculty and students stepped in to help with the installation. Now the Gordon Head Recreation Centre is using solar energy to heat thousands of gallons of water used in showers and sinks. That's good for the environment and good for taxpayers.

Pipe Trades instructor Darren Vaux headed up Camosun's involvement in the project and recruited the assistance of three students from the Plumbing and Pipe Trades Foundations program. He also worked closely with James Smyth, owner of Pacific Solar, a local company that specializes in solar thermal installation. Smyth is well-known to Camosun after donating much of his time, as well as much-needed equipment and materials, to help incorporate the new technology into the pipe trades curriculum and practical lab work.

"This project demonstrates the very real connection between the classroom and the real world," says Vaux. "Companies like Pacific Solar look for Camosun students when they need to hire an apprentice, because of the broad range of skills they bring to the job."

Good for the students too

Participating in this off-campus project also gave the students advanced training above and beyond the usual hands-on experience available in campus shops. Usually trades students don't get much worksite experience until they begin an apprenticeship. By working off-campus while still in the Foundations program, these students received earlier exposure to building code requirements and a glimpse into how a commercial site operates. "Nothing compares to real-life experience," says Vaux.

Matt Thorneloe is one of the students who helped install the recreation centre's new solar thermal system. "It was great to work under a journeyman on this pilot project. Solar thermal energy is an area that's growing, and I can see a lot of career potential down the road because of this experience." After graduating with the Foundations certificate, Thorneloe was hired as an apprentice with the United Association of Journeymen Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 324. Thorneloe is now back at Camosun for six weeks of required technical training as a second year apprentice.

Camosun leads the way

Although solar thermal energy has been used extensively in Europe, the technology is just getting started within Canada's residential construction industry. Nationally, Camosun College is considered to be an educational leader and has adapted the curriculum to meet certification standards established by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Students learn the classroom theory and then reinforce their learning with hands-on practical projects.

Besides sharing his knowledge with Camosun students, Vaux is also the "go-to guy" for western Canada's educators. As a recently appointed director with Victoria's Advancing Sustainable Energy Society, he will help steer Solar BC's installation policies and grant applications.

In September 2010, Camosun redesigned the six-month plumbing and pipe trades program into a new nine-month Plumbing, Refrigeration and Pipe Trades Foundation program. The expanded curriculum covers a wider base of skills and knowledge so that graduates have more apprenticeship options, choosing from among seven different vocations including plumber, pipe fitter/steam fitter, sprinkler fitter, gas fitter, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, geothermal technician, or heating technician.

For more information, contact Enrolment Services, or attend a program info session, scheduled on the third Thursday evening each month.

Last updated: March 22, 2011 1:42 pm

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