Growth in millwright trade is high as tech evolves

Tue, Feb 21, 2023

A trade that’s seen continued demand for workers who maintain increasingly high-tech industrial machines will be on display at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s (KPU) upcoming Faculty of Trades and Technology showcase.

KPU’s millwright program is among the various trades training opportunities for students to be featured at the virtual event on March 2.

of KPU millwright instructor Erick Medina

“The trade is advancing. The equipment is advancing,” says Bob Davis, an instructor and alumni of KPU’s millwright program. “It’s not just a heavy, dirty industry anymore. There’s a lot of precision involved depending on what sector you’re working in.”

Millwrights, also known as industrial mechanics, are construction and maintenance professionals with skills to install, maintain, diagnose and repair precision machinery. They work behind the scenes in a variety of industries – from energy and automotive, to aerospace and food processing – to keep industry moving.

At the KPU Tech campus in Cloverdale, the university offers a 24-week foundation program for students new to the trade, along with seven-week apprenticeship training for those already working in the field. A foundation training program is also available to high school students through the Youth Train in Trades program.

As industry continues to innovate and become more high-tech, so has millwright training. KPU instructors prepare students for the numerous challenges millwrights can expect in their work by teaching skills like welding, precision aligning and calculating rigging capacities.

“We’ve got the equipment, we’ve got the experience, and we’ve got the facilities that are top-notch in Western Canada to get you to where you want to get to,” says Davis.

KPU millwright instructor Erick Medina says while some aspects of the program have changed with technology, other things never change.

“Out in the field, millwrights have seen a big change,” he says, pointing to new industrial computers, electronic sensors, robotics and lasers used in industry. “But a bearing is still a bearing. A bolt is still a bolt. The composition has changed to make them more efficient, but they are the same parts.”

Medina says millwrights who attain the interprovincial Red Seal standard have favourable job prospects. Red Seal certification allows them to work across Canada, while industry growth, coupled with retirements, has put the trade in demand.

“It’s huge. There will never be a shortage of work for millwrights,” he says. “What I tell my students is once you become a millwright, you will never be without a job. Every manufacturing operation requires millwrights because machinery needs servicing.”

In the next 10 years, 2,900 job openings are expected for millwrights in B.C., according to the newly-released 2022 B.C. Labour Market Outlook, which says the median wage for the trade is $34 per hour.

Those new to the field might start their careers lubricating parts in a sawmill, says Medina, while his more experienced apprentice students are working with turbines, conveyer systems, hydraulics, and even servicing ski lifts. Ultimately the trade offers exciting careers that students can take in many directions.

“Any kind of machine that rotates – millwrights are there. So whatever you want to do, you end up doing.”

Neal Raymond, a third-year apprentice studying at KPU, is a millwright at a wastewater treatment plant, where he installs and maintains specialized equipment used to treat the water supply and waste discharge.

“The thing I enjoy about being a millwright is that we make things happen,” he says. “My course at KPU is giving me the background knowledge about most aspects of my trade, as well as giving me an environment with peers in which we learn, share and figure things out. KPU instructors help you to learn how to think like a millwright and encourage you to be involved through hands-on experiences.”

KPU’s virtual Trades and Technology Faculty Showcase offers those interested in learning about the millwright program, or the other trades training offered at the university, a chance to learn more. The showcase will be held on Thursday, March 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. More information and registration details are available on the KPU website.