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Nicole Schartner says she is glad to be in the Power Engineering program at GPRC (Grande Prairie Regional College) Fairview Campus not only because she enjoys the work, but because it allows her to “talk shop” with family.
The soon to be 19-year-old, whose grandfather and two uncles are also power engineers, became interested in the program right out of high school. “I went on the job with them and found out what it was all about. I liked the work itself and when I found out the schooling was short – it was even better.”
She now finds more to talk about when the family gets together. “It’s pretty awesome! It’s definitely better with my uncles because I can relate to them a lot more. One uncle was pretty excited and he definitely encouraged it. My grandpa was pretty excited but he was concerned about how I would be treated as a woman.”
As a woman in a male-dominated profession, Schartner initially found resistance when looking for a student practicum position. This challenge turned out to be a blessing in disguise when she was chosen to work elsewhere. “I ended up at Encana Sexsmith, and it’s absolutely phenomenal. I love it.”
She has found the group she works with to be a pleasure; she even bakes cookies and brings them in for her colleagues. “I’m just turning nineteen and all the guys I work with are in their late 30s with kids. I could not have asked for anyone better to work with because these guys treat me like a niece or a daughter.”
The program offered at GPRC is expanding to a two-year flexible program, allowing candidates the option of finishing with Fourth Class, obtaining their Gas Processing certification or continuing to full Third Class Power Engineering Certification.
Brent Boutilier, Power Engineering instructor for GPRC says the industry offers plenty of variety in terms of where you can work. “With a Power Engineer certificate (First to Fourth), there are a number of streams power engineers can go into, the biggest one being oil and gas. But there’s also breweries, petro-chemicals, fertilizer plants, food processing plants, power generating plants and hospitals, just to name a few. It’s needed just about everywhere.”
Schartner agrees. “That’s what is so great about this field. Once you have your ticket, you have a piece of paper that says you are an engineer. You can do so many things and go wherever you want; you can even be shipped out of the country. There are so many options that I’m not even sure where I’ll go with it.”
According to Boutilier, the industry is going to continue to grow. “The nice thing about power engineering is once they (students) are finished building the new plants, all the construction trades go off to build another plant, but we stay there for another 40 or 50 years running it,” says Boutilier, adding that the typical salary for a power engineering graduate starts at approximately $60,000 a year and there is potential for it to grow quickly. “I’ve got one student who’s making $120K after a year in the field,” he says.
Schartner, who will be a fourth class power engineer when she finishes her first round of schooling this spring, plans to gain her second class certification in the next six years.
“I am so glad that I got into this – it’s incredible. I think the best part is you always learn, you never stop learning and every day I go to work it’s something new. That’s always pretty exciting when you go to work,” she says.
As for Nicole, she concluded, “I definitely made the right choice – this field is open to everyone”.
Contributed by Grande Prairie Regional College