BURIN, NL –
Robert Marshall isn’t one to mince words and is skeptical by nature; however, when it comes to a national award from the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) Foundation, he is very reserved.
Marshall, a Welder Engineering Technician (WET) student at College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Burin campus, recently completed his program with honours and received his Inspector Level 1 designation. He was also notified that he was this year’s recipient of the Canadian Welding Bureau’s (CWB) Foundation’s Hugh Krentz Award, a prize that also carries with it a $7,500 cheque. It was an unexpected award, he says, and it’s one thing to be encouraged to apply, it’s a whole other thing to actually get it.
“Looking around the class there are others more academically inclined than I am, and I would have assumed one of them would get it,” he said. “You’re never too old to start fresh. I’m seeing that a lot here actually. I am seeing people over the age of 45 and 50 that are restarting their trades … I’m too young to retire.”
Of the three awards that have previously been given in this category by the CWB Foundation, all three of the recipients have been from CNA, and two of those have been enrolled in a welding program at Burin campus.
Marshall, already a 15-year journeyman in his mid-40s, comes from a family of welders with his father, brother and a few cousins involved in the trade since the 1960s, which he credits with sustaining his family’s livelihoods for many decades. He says the trade is often dangerous and dirty, and after time, it can take a toll on a person’s body. He knows this first-hand after a work-related permanent injury four years ago forced him off the tools and to reconsider his career path. It was either take a compensation package to retirement, he says, or go back to school.
He chose to seek training and skillsets in other aspects of his trade. While he had always eyed the WET field, the injury granted him the opportunity to pursue it. The decision to go back to school was daunting in itself, and Marshall said a big challenge was his age and ability to make meaningful relationships among fellow classmates, who are in their late teens and early 20s. If anything, the interaction made him realize he was in the same mindset as they were – just with 30 or so years of experience on top of it.
Hugh Krentz Award and the CWB
Deborah Mates, CWB Foundation’s Executive Director, says Hugh Krentz is an icon in the welding industry – a very experienced and highly regarded welding expert.
“That award is really special because the recipient, if they know anything about the history of welding, know the calibre of Hugh as an individual and what that means to be awarded with something in his name,” she explained. “He is a big advocate of construction standards and the safety of the public … also the academic achievement – Robert has a 4.0 grade point average – and that was another asset. We look at their academic achievements and what their beliefs are in protecting the Canadian public in this industry.”
In Marshall’s case, Mates says he was an obvious choice for this award for a number of reasons, specifically what his two instructors had to say about him in the classroom, and also the breadth of his experience and no-quit attitude.
“Robert wasn’t willing to give up on his career and continue doing what he loves,” Mates said. “I think what really stood out for me was his interaction with the other students, and the ability to share his knowledge and all the he had learned along the way in industry , that is valuable to other students. It is really the mentorship that we saw, and his teachers spoke about his willingness to share that information with the class. And it’s not just about on the job, it’s life experience too that I think is so important for other students to hear about.”
Mates explains that while she recommends potential winners for the award, it is Krentz himself who makes the final decision along with consultation from the CWB president. Marshall had the opportunity to speak with the award’s namesake for more than an hour, and found him to be an “interesting man who has been in the business forever, from the bottom to the top.”
Jim Manning, one of Marshall’s instructors, had high praise for the not only the work of the CWB Foundation in terms of the scholarships it offers, awards to colleges and advocacy of welders, but for Marshall as well.
“This is a top award – he beat out a lot of stiff competition not only internally but across the country as well,” Manning said, adding that the competition was open to university and college levels. “With Robert’s background I think there are a lot of good opportunities for him in inspection and he’s not going to be dealing with the same work environment he would have as a welder. My job turned from instructor to facilitator with Robert in the class. We wouldn’t be very far into the (class discussion) and Robert will have a story from his past that so succinctly sums up the lesson that it’s amazing. It’s been a real pleasure to have him in the class because he puts true relevance from his life experience to my lesson.”
He noted the foundation aims to promote welding across Canada and the decision to give Marshall this award choice was a sound one.
“Robert could have just as easily said when he had his injury that this was it, he was done, but he didn’t,” Manning said. “He didn’t just take on anything; he took on a very challenging program and he’s been excelling.”
Darren Walsh, another of Marshall’s instructors at Burin campus, said he is a good example to younger students of someone who has the experience, is willing to take a risk and getting rewarded for it.
“It’s also an example for other mature students that might be out there sitting on the fence wondering if they are going to apply to college,” noted Walsh. “It’s nice to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there is success available for those who are willing to work for it. The younger students look at this from a textbook point of view, and Robert’s experiences and stories kind of match both worlds. He also gives the example that you don’t have the same career for 30 years – that midway you can change gears, and don’t be afraid to change and do what you like to do. Some think that they will do this job or this career for the next 30 years and nothing’s ever going to happen to me. His example is to not be afraid to take some risks and go do what you want to do.”
Marshall said he plans to take an additional two Welding Code endorsements, as well as pursue his Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) qualification tests. He will also explore his employment options, and would love to stay in the Burin Peninsula region if possible. Winning the award will look great on his resume, he added, and once he attends the CWB Foundation meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the fall, it will help him network with industrial leaders and potentially see what’s next for him.
College of the North Atlantic