Working Together Gets the Job Done

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By , April 25, 2013

The commitment of numerous community partners is what makes career opportunities for youth possible, proving the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Dale McEahern (Carpenter) and Rayel Cooper (Oil & Gas Field Operator) share their experience as two of the many students who have benefitted from dual credit programs through Northern Opportunities partnerships that allow local youth to get college credits and experience while they complete their high school diplomas.

Dale McEahern (Carpenter) and Rayel Cooper (Oil & Gas Field Operator) share their experience as two of the many students who have benefitted from dual credit programs through Northern Opportunities partnerships that allow local youth to get college credits and experience while they complete their high school diplomas.

Northern Opportunities held a mixer last week to highlight its contributors and celebrate 10 years of providing dual credit programs to secondary students in the area. The organization links Fort Nelson, Peace River North, and Peace River South school districts, Northern Lights College, First Nations and industry to combine high school, college studies and practical training so students can get advanced college credit and certifications in a trade while they finish high school. At the event, students who partook said the program was an invaluable stepping stone.

“Growing up I always had my sights set on being a horse riding instructor,” said Rayel Cooper. “I’ve lived on a farm my whole life, so I knew the career I wanted was something to do with horses, so why not teach kids how to ride?”

She said when she learned about the trades, she realized there might be another way to support her hobbies.

“As I got older I researched into it a bit more and came to realize there was a lot more to it than I thought,” she said. “When I was about 16 I knew the job I wanted had to be a good-paying job because I had a list of things I wanted like a truck, a snowmobile and, of course, a horse trailer.”

Cooper said she first learned about the dual credit program in junior high when her class toured nearby colleges. She started to plan for her career around Grade 11, she said, using that information to guide her.

“I also knew a few people that went through the program as well so I looked into the courses the college offered as dual credit programs and one that really caught my eye was power engineering,” she said.

“So for my Grade 11 year I signed up for all the high school courses I needed to take to get into power engineering and close to the end of the year I was kind of getting mixed feelings about working in the oil patch in that particular career. So I looked into other courses and another one that caught my eye was oil and gas field operations. I knew it was kind of similar to power engineering and that it was only four-and-a-half months long so if I didn’t like the oil patch I only went through four-and-a-half months of schooling instead of a year of schooling.”

Cooper said it was challenging to be away from home for the first time, but one she says developed her character.

“The course was offered at the Fort St. John campus (of Northern Lights College) so I had to move into a dorm which was a little scary. The first few weeks of college was very overwhelming. I was the youngest in the program and the only
girl. I didn’t really know anyone, so it definitely helped me out to become more of an independent person because I didn’t have anyone to rely on to do stuff for me. Once I got to know everyone in class it became a lot more fun and I was excited to go to class every day.”

It turned out Cooper had found something she wanted to stick with. Now she is employed with a large oil and gas corporation and, she says, having the time of her life.

“I get along really good with everybody that I work with. My mentor was really good, he taught me a lot. A year after I started working I got offered a direct position under (that company) so I accepted it and it’s been great, they recently sent me and one other lady to Nashville for a really big safety conference, that was the trip of a lifetime,” Cooper said.

“They are a company to grow and they are providing job opportunities. I’m very thankful for the high school and the college for providing us with the dual credit program because without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Dale McEachern was equally complimentary.

“I did the dual credit program and I went into my level two carpenter and it was definitely a good experience,” he said. “Without the Northern Opportunities I don’t think I would be where I am now and I really want to thank them for having this for the student to be able to even consider going in the field, getting hands-on and I’m currently working with a journeyman carpenter right now and I’m getting all my hands-on training and I’m learning every day new things.”

McEachern’s mother, Alma, said the program helped Dale to become excited for school while most kids consider it a chore.

“We talked about what he really liked about school and he said, ‘Well I like the wood work,’” She said. “So I said we’ll see about him going into carpentry and we were at the high school and he got into level one carpentry in Grade 11 and
it was like a new world for him. Eight o’clock in the morning was nothing to have him up, dressed, waiting at the door for me to get ready and go to school instead of me running and saying Dale, we’ve got to go, we’re going to be late.”

She said she was full of pride for Dale’s achievements and gratitude to the partners of Northern Opportunities.

“The person he’s got working with him right now is not only his employer, but Dale had a couple rough bumps in college and he called on mom to come and help. He says ‘Mom, I don’t understand this.’ I said ‘phone your boss,’ so he did. The person that he’s working for said, ‘Bring your books and we’ll go through it.’

“So thank you for the program itself, the sponsors who’ve been in the program and the workers who are out there in the world employing our students and letting them learn under them. As a mom I am really grateful and thankful that he’s now chosen his career he’s so looking forward to.”

~ Derek Bedry, Alaska Highway News

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