Founded in the late 1940s, the Vancouver Community College Steel Construction Modelling program is one of only a handful of steel detailing programs worldwide. Over the years, the program has developed a reputation for being a valuable source for well-trained graduates with firsthand technical detailing experience.
With the industry constantly in search of candidates with technical detailing experience and students asking for more opportunities to learn software they would use in the field, the College began exploring new ways to provide the next generation of industry leaders with the technical knowledge they need to start and grow their careers. In 2008, after a donation from Trimble, the College began teaching students how to use Tekla Structures, a structural building information modeling (BIM) software for creating, combining, managing and sharing 3D models.
When student graduate Lindsay Meikle started the steel detailing program in the Fall of 2019, he began an academic journey that would eventually lead to his first job as a steel detailer.
Fast-Tracking Students for Employment
Lindsay Meikle worked as a welder and fabricator before an injury forced him to transition to an office-focused career. He was drawn to the steel detailing program at VCC because of its proximity and reputation for fast tracking students into in-demand construction careers.
The 10-month program started with several months devoted to Autocad for drafting before Meikle moved into steel detailing where he learned the codes and standards that would be expected of him once hired into the industry. With a solid foundation in place, he began learning about BIM and began using Tekla Structures for 3D modeling, first learning the training manual before applying those skills to specific industrial and commercial projects.
By the time he graduated with the Stan Phipps Award, which is given to the top academic performer of the year, Meikle had used Tekla Structures for four out of the ten months of the program and had begun working part-time as a junior steel detailer for Exact Detailing prior to graduation. Exact Detailing, a steel detailing company based in British Columbia, uses Tekla Structures extensively on everything from residential staircases and industrial projects to large commercial developments.
“My first job at Exact Detailing was to help with drawing and editing for a new large data center in the Pacific Northwest,” said Meikle. “It was a complicated project with a lot of moving parts. I could not have done my job without the prior training using Tekla Structures. It gave me the foundation and experience I needed to hit the ground running on this project.”
Meikle is a year into his job and has worked on several interesting projects, including steel and pipe modeling, miscellaneous steel and numerous commercial jobs, all aided by his Tekla Structures training.
Fueling the Local Labor Pipeline
Matt Arnott, the Director of Admin at Exact Detailing is no stranger to VCC as the company has been hiring graduates from the steel detailing program since 2000. While it also sources students from a wide variety of other programs, VCC is preferred due to its extensive Tekla Structures training, which gives incoming candidates a leg up compared to other new employees.
“I can’t stress how valuable this training is for us because it provides incoming job candidates with the skills they need to succeed on day one,” said Arnott. “Otherwise, they have to learn on the job, which typically takes at least six months to a year, time that we have to source from existing staff who are willing to impart their knowledge to bring them up to speed. It’s very time intensive and can detract from getting work done on in-demand projects.”
Arnott also credits the VCC with helping students understand the industry and what’s expected of them - from how things are built, to giving them the vocabulary they need to understand the workflow. Graduates adapt well once they’re out on the job, and the technical skills they acquire are typically long vs. short term.
“It’s a lot like having a good foundation in math before learning calculus,” said Arnott. “As you progress, you continue to use those skills and build upon them, getting more comfortable as you go. The foundation is the start and everything else naturally builds from there.”
Trimble’s Ongoing Education Effort
Since 2008, Tekla Structures has been taught at VCC to roughly 22-23 students each year, with the 2021-2022 academic year set to enroll close to 40 students.
“We’ll be adding an instructor next year to accommodate demand and students from as far away as Hong Kong and Iran who log in remotely,” said Ron Palma, interim department head and steel detailing instructor. “A lot of the demand stems from being able to learn how to use Tekla Structures since it helps make our graduates stand out from other candidates given that they come equipped with ‘job ready’ skills that otherwise must be learned on the job.”
Donating Tekla Structures to VCC is just one aspect of Trimble’s larger effort to equip the next generation of leaders with the technology skills they need to succeed on the job. The company regularly donates the latest Trimble software and hardware technology used for construction projects, providing students in the fields of engineering, architecture, and construction science an advanced start in their careers. This can range from scanning and mixed reality hardware to a wide variety of software products.
State-of-the-art ‘Trimble Technology Labs’ (TTLs) are also regularly gifted to select universities worldwide, giving educators and students access to an entire suite of hardware and software tools to help make them ‘job ready’ upon graduation, helping to fuel the construction labor market and provide contractors with employees who can hit the ground running on day one. Most Trimble Tech Labs include a standard set of hardware and software solutions, which ranges from SketchUp Pro and Tekla Structures to robotic total stations and 3D laser scanners. The labs include ongoing support and training and are considered long-term investments that are intended to be used for multiple years. Trimble visits each campus and grants new technologies as they become available. To date, there are roughly two dozen labs located throughout the world.
Trimble also has an active ‘Visiting Professionals Program,’ which connects Trimble's professional user community with an academic department's area of study. Visiting professionals visit campus classrooms to walk students through their design processes, sharing preferred tools and unraveling workflows while providing feedback to students on different projects they’re working on.
All of these efforts go a long way towards ensuring that the next generation of leaders have practical, hands-on experience using the tools they will rely on for the bulk of their professional careers. This has the added benefit of giving contractors access to new employees who are immediately ‘job ready,’ saving them valuable time and money that otherwise would be spent on training.