From the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities.
Greg House of Lunenburg County, N.S., grew up in a 200-year-old Cape Cod style home, which his dad purchased in 1972. Even after living there for nearly four decades, he and his parents will occasionally notice new clues about the families who lived there before them. Whenever it’s time to update an aspect of the house, they’re careful to respect those contributions. “An old house tells a story,” says the 27-year-old, who has a B.A. in international development from Dalhousie. That’s why he thinks it’s a shame that most new houses are “basically just plastic and metal.” He hopes to preserve the character of old houses as much as possible. The Heritage Carpentry program at Nova Scotia Community College is helping him do just that. The program teaches both the hands-on skills needed to restore old houses and the psychology of approaching clients who are used to choosing the cheapest material. “Instead of just doing it the easy way, we present clients with options, like ‘Are you sure I should rip out these old floorboards?’; ‘Are you sure you want me to pop in a vinyl window, instead of just re-glazing this glass?’ ” Sometimes it’s actually more energy efficient to re-glaze solid old windows, he says. NSCC also teaches its student how to build roof trusses—something of a lost art for most young carpenters, who would rather just order one from a factory. And the program has a course that teaches how to reinvigorate older public buildings. House, who spent a short time building new houses after graduation, now works for a contractor who has a similar approach to the craft. He says some clients are receptive, but sometimes he still has to install vinyl windows and cheap flooring. Heritage carpenters in rural places like Lunenberg often can’t make a living doing heritage work alone. But in bigger centres like Ottawa, full-time heritage work is easier to find. (House was offered a job there, but chose to stay at home in Nova Scotia near his family.) Either way, there is plenty of work for carpenters of all types from coast-to-coast, with an average annual pay of $52,000 and sometimes higher pay for those who own their own businesses. House says heritage carpentry is best suited to people who are willing to “put in an honest day’s work,” but who also like to be challenged to think. “In an old house, nothing is ever square or level. And they’ve usually had Joe Blow the Contractor working on them over the years, not doing things right,” he says. “Unlike new home [builders], everything we do is about problem solving.” But it isn’t just problem solving; it’s also physical work. That means House often falls asleep at the dinner table (the one that sits in the old-fashioned formal dining room where he grew up). Rewarding as it may be, preserving history through heritage carpentry is also exhausting. Similar programs: Algonquin (Perth, Ont.) and the College of the North Atlantic
John Vetere, 22, almost went to engineering school. “But I couldn’t picture myself in school for five years without doing anything hands-on,” he says. So instead of sitting in classrooms, he used the last half-decade to master Italian cooking on the Ligurian Coast, to learn to use almost every part of a pig for charcuterie, and to work his way up to chef de partie at Scott Conant’s swish Toronto room, Scarpetta. It was an eye-opening co-op placement at an Italian restaurant in high school that convinced him to enrol in George Brown’s two-year Culinary Management program. He topped that off with a year of Italian cooking training, also at George Brown. Vetere enjoyed his first year, often staying after class to learn from professors and jumping at any opportunity to help out in the restaurants where they have connections. By second year, he was practising the art of using every part of an animal for myriad sausages, rillettes or jellies. By third year he was refining his pastas for 16 hours a day in a kitchen where Italian was the only language. (Vetere took some Italian classes at George Brown but was still a novice.) He loves the job, but others can’t hack the long days or high pressure of the kitchen. “It’s hard work with bad hours,” admits Vetere. “You have to have a a bit of a thick skin. But it’s worth it if you have that passion within.” George Brown prepares students for long days by forcing them to get up early. Vetere would wake up at 5:30 a.m. for 7:30 classes, some of which had the added insult of taking place inside a giant refrigerator. “You’d see a lot of students napping in various places in the chef school,” he recalls. The money isn’t great at first either—average pay for cooks in a typical restaurant hovers around $30,000. But it is possible to move up quickly to the level of chef de partie or sous-chef, who make a bit more, “if you’ve got the skills,” Vetere clarifies. And kitchens are meritocracies where the reward of making it to the top, becoming chef de cuisine, is lucrative. The average executive chef in the U.S. makes $75,000, according to StarChefs.com . Either way, it’s not about the money for Vetere. Nor is it about the fact that “people think cooking is sexy,” (which they do, he says.) According to him, the real gratification comes from sharing a piece of freshly cured charcuterie. “When you cut into something that you created from day one and your guest is like ‘holy s–t, you made this?’ ” says Vetere, “That’s when you get an enormous amount of joy.” Similar programs: Algonquin, Canadore, Confederation, Fanshawe, Fleming, Georgian, Holland, Humber, La Cite, Lambton, Loyalist, Niagara College, N.S.C.C., SAIT, Sault, St. Clair. . . and more.
Chelsea Francis was a bit lost when she came back from teaching in South Korea to live in Calgary with her husband. The 28-year-old from Summerside, P.E.I.,l had graduated from Mount Allison University with a B.Sc. before going overseas. Upon returning, she tried studying petroleum engineering, but that just didn’t feel right. “I genuinely like helping people,” she says. “And I wanted a program where I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a job.” After hearing about health care opportunities from her nursing friends, she switched to Respiratory Therapy at SAIT Polytechnic. Today she works in the operating room at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary where she helps save lives nearly every day. Each shift is different. “We mix medication, start intravenous lines, assist with spinals, preoxygenate patients, and assess whether to put tubes in or take tubes out,” she says. Respiratory therapists help people breathe, whether they’re on ventilators in intensive care units, at assisted living facilities, or managing lung disease at home. At SAIT, students practise assessment and medical procedures on expensive mannequins that speak and have vital signs. But even the high-tech dolls can’t prepare students for the first time they’re required to poke a needle into an artery to test the blood for gasses. Unlike veins, which nurses can see, the arteries RTs poke have to be punctured “by feel,” says Francis. “I don’t think I got one until my third try on a patient,” she says. And it can be stressful to hurt a patient. It’s also emotionally taxing to lose a patient for the first time, she says. And Francis warns that not everyone has the stomach for the job. Suffice it to say there are certain “smells” involved that have some RT students running for the toilet during their practicum. But in spite of the stress, it’s really rewarding to help someone get their breath back. “There’s nothing more terrifying than feeling like you can’t breathe,” says Francis. She’ll never forget the old woman with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) whom she treated early in her career. The woman thought she was going to die. Francis put her on a special machine that pushed oxygen into her lungs and then held her hand through a night shift. She managed to breathe again and was able to leave the hospital. The simple thank you she received felt good. But it isn’t just an emotionally rewarding job. Frequent overtime shifts, which are paid at one-and-a-half times the normal rate, push many rookie RTs past the $60,000 mark. They’re also in higher demand than almost any other job out there. SAIT, for example, has doubled the number of annual RT enrolments over the past decade, but it could probably find jobs for twice as many more, says program coordinator Meena Kumar. Just look at the class of 2011. Months before graduation, almost everyone in the class had multiple jobs offers to choose from. Francis may have been lost when she got to Calgary, but she’s made up for lost time. Similar programs: Algonquin, Canadore, College of the North Atlantic, Conestoga, Fanshawe, La Cité, the Michener Institute, NAIT, NBCC (Saint John) and Thompson Rivers University
“As a kid I used to love LEGO,” says Amy Lau, 32, of Vancouver. “Then, as I grew up, I was constantly looking through architecture magazines, in awe of different buildings.” After graduating with a science degree from Simon Fraser University in 2004, Lau worked several jobs, but that fascination for buildings never left her. Three years ago she enrolled in a couple of evening architecture classes at BCIT in Burnaby, B.C. When she learned about how climate informs building styles, she was even more intrigued. She enrolled full time in the two-year Architectural and Building Engineering Technology program. Now, Lau is now a rookie architectural technologist (AT) at the engineering firm Morrison-Hershfield in Vancouver. She spends part of her days reviewing proposed buildings to make sure they can withstand the West Coast’s rainy climate, and part of her days investigating buildings that have failed. “If it’s a wall that’s leaking, we’ll cut a hole through it, dig in and see what the issues are,” she explains. “Then we go back to the office and write a report on how to fix it. A lot of it’s science, but a lot of it is just experience too.” In a city known for its leaky condos, Lau is unlikely to be out of work any time soon. And although the job market for construction follows the ups-and-downs of the business cycle, ATs are increasingly in demand. That’s partly because they’re cheaper than architects and civil engineers, even if they do make an average of $50,000 a year. Lau says the best thing about her new career is the possibility of working in any of the three streams: building science (the one she chose), design, or construction. Michael Currie, the program head at BCIT, says it’s common for graduates to move between the three sectors. Lau says the variety is one of the benefits of the career, but she thinks she’ll stick to building science for now because of the even split between office work and field work. But potential students shouldn’t feel they have to choose a stream before they start, says Lau. “You find out about a year into the diploma what it is that you like about architecture,” she advises. It’s even possible to turn the diploma into a bachelor’s degree with two more years of study and, from there, students can apply for a Master of Architecture at UBC. But Lau is happy doing what she does: making buildings last. It’s especially rewarding working on public buildings, she says. “Right now I’m working on a school and a community centre. When that’s done, I’ll be able to drive by those and say, ‘Wow, I actually contributed to that.’ ” Similar programs: Algonquin, Centennial, College of the North Atlantic, Confederation, Fanshawe, George Brown, Holland, Humber, Loyalist, Mohawk, Northern, N.S.C.C. (Waterfront), Red River, SIAST (Moose Jaw), Sheridan, St. Clair . . . and more.