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Associate Member Profile | BCIT School of Transportation’s Railway Training

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Railway Training…’the Indigenous way’

Growing up in Prince George, B.C., Vince Jones saw firsthand railways’ importance to the communities they serve – what he calls the “railway connection.”

Four decades into his own career, the rail operations veteran is now helping to teach and train the next generation of railroaders.

Jones is an instructor with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) School of Transportation’s Railway Training program.

While BCIT is one of three providers of post-secondary railway training in Canada, the school is the only one with its own certified, operational railway. It is also the first to divide the Railway Association of Canada (RAC)’s rail curriculum into three distinct courses for part-time study.

BCIT believes that will make the course, and eventual careers in rail, more accessible and attractive to Indigenous students in particular.

“Getting to know their instructor is a critical part of the success of our approach,” says Steve Perry, the Associate Dean in charge of the school’s Motive Power programs. “It’s a leap of faith for students to come out of their communities into the city for practical training. But it ends up being a win-win, for them and for railways.”

Jones’ Rail 1001 course is a four-week ‘part-time, blended’ format: classroom learning on-campus in Delta, B.C., then in-field learning on the line.

The idea is to give students a sense of the breadth of options a career in rail can entail, in ways that resonate on a personal level.

Says Jones: “It’s a conversation. We teach and sit in a circle and at high-levels we talk about their dreams – what they want to do and see in life. Then we transition to them asking and seeking answers to questions about the railway.”

By the time that first course is complete four weeks later, he says, many students are excited to pursue others.

After completing three courses, students will be able to apply for the Associate Certificate in Railway Conductor and Operations. The first of these will be awarded in September.

The BCIT approach to rail education already posts some impressive results: 90% of BCIT grads get hired by railway companies. And ninety-day retention rates for BCIT grads are about 20% higher than the norm.

“Many of the Indigenous students that come us have historically wanted to stay in and around their communities, yet railways have traditionally had trouble hiring in remote areas,” says Perry. “We believe this will be instrumental in fulfilling regional labour shortages and build on some very positive steps to improve the relationships between Canada’s railway companies and Indigenous communities.”

Funding for the indigenous classes comes from a local employment centre, and are supported by CN Rail. Online applications for the part-time study course are now open.