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Alumni Spotlight

Former MHC welding apprentice finds passion for leadership

Zenon Parchewsky has always enjoyed a challenge.

At the young age of twenty-seven, he is a certified Red and Blue Seal welder, a supervisor at CF Industries and a member of the Boilermakers Lodge 146.

He believes both his upbringing and education are attributed to his success, instilling values which he carries with him as he continues to grow and advance his career.

Growing a career
Raised with an interest in problem-solving and working with his hands, Zenon was introduced to welding through his father, who also had an interest in the trade. By the time he approached high school, Zenon made the easy decision to enroll in the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), an opportunity which allowed him to work as a part-time welding apprentice while obtaining high school credit.

“I originally started working after-school and on weekends in a welding shop in Medicine Hat. I graduated early from high school because of the RAP Program, allowing me to work full-time in grade eleven, instead of after grade twelve.”

Having years of experience by the time he turned eighteen, Zenon became a member of the Boilermakers Lodge 146, a union which brings highly trained welders to the building construction industry. With almost 3000 apprenticeship hours under his belt, he was motivated to complete his journeyman certification, which would allow him to work as a welder across Alberta.

In 2013, he enrolled in the welding apprenticeship program at Medicine Hat College (MHC). Already having a solid foundation, he believes he was able to learn more than the average apprentice while completing his education.

“I had a lot of experience coming into school, so I didn’t have to focus as much on the hand skills. It was just such a good experience to be taught by extremely skilled welders and to be able to pick up more advanced tips and tricks while going through school.”

Now, working in a maintenance facility with CF Industries, he believes his education prepared him for the spontaneity that each workday brings.

“The instructors at MHC would talk about real-life examples and situations that don’t always happen in the classroom, and it set me up for when I got those because I already thought about how I would treat that situation before I got there."

To better improve his skill upon completing his education in 2015, he obtained all his welding tickets and challenged his Red Seal exam, a nationwide certification.

“Working in a maintenance or plant facility with a lot of different specialty metals, you never know what’s going to break. Where most welders will go to work and be doing one kind of weld, we need to have the ability to do up to ten different welds on a day when something goes down.”

By the time Zenon turned twenty-one, his ability to problem-solve using advanced techniques landed him a supervisory role, supporting a team of 10-15 welders. Depending on the needs of the team each day, Zenon will either lead the team, ensuring his crew is prepared and supported, or work alongside them as a welder when needed.

“If the plant is down, there is emergency work that needs to be done, and we will work continuously for 8-12 hour days. It can be high stress because these plants don’t like to be down for very long but with the group of people we have, it makes it easy. Everyone is very good at their job here.”

Acting as a team leader and welder has allowed Zenon to learn techniques from his peers, which have further allowed him to improve his skill.

“I really like welding because every day I will show up and look at welds and won’t think they’re possible, but then I’ll end up doing it. Every day is a bit of a battle, but as I get better, those days are less and less.”

Finding career sustainability
After nine years of practicing his skill and learning from others, Zenon now believes he has accomplished everything he planned to in his career as a welder. Now, he is ready to take on new challenges within the field.

“Welding can be tough on the body, so it isn’t a very sustainable career for me as I get older. Now I’m really focusing on spending more time on education to be able to move outside of a lower-level supervisor role into management.”

He began his leadership training in 2021 through Apprenticeship and Industry Training Alberta (AIT), with a leadership and personal development program which opened his eyes to the behind-the-scenes work he was never exposed to on the job. Interested in learning more, he decided to pursue the Applied Project Management Certificate of Achievement at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), an accelerated program which provided him full credit toward his Blue Seal certification.

“I want to manage and one day own a maintenance turnaround company on a bigger scale,” says Zenon, who plans to eventually enroll in a Bachelor of Business Administration to learn how to operate a business.

With a new year started, Zenon is also taking MHC’s Tourism & Hospitality Management micro-credential, to understand leadership from a different angle.

Travelling with the trades

Throughout his career, Zenon has been privy to the number of opportunities out there, which have allowed him to improve his skill in little time. He inspires other welders to challenge themselves with a variety of work.

“Indulge yourself in all the different settings that you can work in. I’ve worked with guys who have only worked in one place their whole lives and I just think they’ve missed out on so much in their career so far. I’ve worked at twelve different plant sites across Alberta in the last nine years. There’s a lot of see out there and the trades can take you to a lot of places.”

Having his Red Seal certification in welding has not only provided countless opportunities, but has allowed him to travel, a benefit he believes makes the trade valuable.

“Welders can work for anybody in all settings. You can work almost anywhere, and you can travel across the whole world. For myself, I can go down to the states or I can go from BC all the way to PEI and still work for my same company, through the Boilermakers.”

For those interested in finding consistent work, Zenon adds that due to the current labour shortage in North America, there are consistently open opportunities for both apprentices and journeymen.

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