It’s no secret that heavy-duty mechanics are hard to come by. They represent one of the most in-demand trades around with global industrial demand competing for chronic under supply of qualified tradespeople.
Until recently, Burns Lake had been without a heavy equipment garage for 12 years, an unusual situation when you consider the number of logging trucks and heavy equipment operators in Burns Lake or based in the area.
For years, local drivers and operators have had to rely on out-of-town repairs for their equipment, adding hours and inconvenience to already long days with travel to Houston or Vanderhoof.
Last October, Burns Lake became home to a heavy duty shop once again with the quiet opening of Industrial Transformers in the Burns Lake industrial park.
“We’ve been working on it [opening the garage] for a number of years,” sad Ron Waters, heavy duty mechanic and business partner. “Everything clicked recently. This location came up for sale, and the economy started picking up.”
Industrial Transformers is a family-run business with eight partners all contributing to the mix: Doug and Kathy Waters, Richard and Wendy Wainwright, Matt and Amy Wainwright, and Ron and Heather Waters.
“Richard and Ron are certified mechanics and Commercial Vehicle Inspectors,” said Wendy Wainwright. “Matt is also a mechanic along with Doug, [who] also oversees the construction side of the business.”
Besides those business partners, Lief Andersen also wrenches in the shop, along with two apprentices and a third on the way.
That’s a significant transformation of what was just a vacant Burns Lake property less than six months ago. The property was left vacant after the completion of Lakes District Maintenance’s new shop facility on the west side of town.
“We’ll have more mechanics,” Kathy Water said. “We’re looking for another licensed mechanic and we’d hire another apprentice.”
How does a garage in Burns Lake draw so many mechanics together at a time when it seems that every heavy industry outfit and garage across the province is screaming for mechanics?
“It’s tough,” said Richard Wainwright. “There are [other] ads in the paper for up to $40 an hour. We have to be competitive.”
It helps that the core of mechanics at Industrial Transformers are also partners in the business. Bringing on apprentices shows commitment to the community and the prospect of the shop expanding the number of excellent paying, long-term jobs in Burns Lake.
A government of Canada labour website (workingincanada.gc.ca) lists 887 advertisements for heavy duty mechanics Canada-wide, with 117 in B.C. and 247 in Alberta. Many of those listings are for multiple positions with the same company, meaning the actual number of openings is even larger than the single listings suggest.
The average wage for heavy duty mechanics in B.C. is more than $28/hr with wages going up to $45/hr in Northeastern B.C.
That means a lot of competition for Industrial Transformers when it comes to finding mechanics, but so far they’ve been able to capitalize on their core commitment to Burns Lake.
“It’s been steady here since we opened,” said Richard Wainwright. “When we started it was just the four of us in here. Now we’re up to 15 people. It took off that fast.”
The shop has several bays and the capacity to handle the longest trailers. That’s an important factor for vehicle inspections.
“We’re an inspection facility,” said Richard. “You’re certified for what you can fit in your building, and we’re authorized for the longest trailers.”
Some area contractors may have their own mechanics, but vehicle inspection and certification is a separate function from having a garage.
“You can have your own mechanics, but you might not be able to inspect and certify your own trucks,” Richard added.
Along with local mechanic and inspection services, Industrial Transformers has three service trucks kept busy with out of town calls, including work with a local contractor at the $500 million Red Chris copper/gold mine project near Dease Lake.
An early April grand opening is in the works. Stay tuned to Lakes District News for an announcement, and consider every invoice you generate with Industrial Transformers to be a chance at two prizes.
“On grand opening there will be two prizes, a 32-inch flat screen TV and a surround sound system,” Kathy said. “We’ll draw from work orders, so anybody who has an invoice from the shop will be in the draw.”