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Rob Hinksman, a heavy equipment operator currently working in Richmond, went back to school to earn a certificate.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's skilled work force is expected to undergo an invisible shift in coming years as the pool of younger workers becomes smaller than the number of aging workers who have their eye on retirement. In a 10-part series, The Globe and Mail looks at the 10 jobs expected to be in the highest demand in B.C. in the next decade. This is part nine.

Throughout the month-long campaign leading up to Christy Clark's surprise election victory last year, the Liberal Leader hammered home the promise of job creation by touring construction sites and natural gas plants, operating excavators and donning a signature hard hat.

The role of heavy equipment operator is in fact in large demand: B.C. is expected to need nearly 7,000 of them over the next decade, in no small part due to energy projects. The B.C. Jobs Plan is aiming to bring at least four natural gas pipelines and terminals online by 2020.

That means the province will be looking for people like Rob Hinksman, a heavy equipment operator currently working at a Richmond, B.C.-based organics management company. A construction worker for 15 years, Mr. Hinksman switched jobs seven years ago, his decision spurred by an interest in the heavy construction equipment.

"I was always fascinated with the excavator," said Mr. Hinksman, 48. "With my age and all, I knew I couldn't keep doing the physical labour. But mostly, I just wanted to get into that machine. I knew I could do it."

He went back to school to earn a certificate – an investment that he says cost him about $14,000 but made him look more attractive to prospective employers – and began working shortly after. Depending on what is needed that day, Mr. Hinksman might see himself behind the wheel of an excavator, a bulldozer, a front-end loader or a rubber-tire backhoe. With experience and expertise, Mr. Hinksman says a typical day for him now begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. Younger employees can often expect longer days and less desirable hours, however.

It can be tough work – and dangerous when gas, water or electrical lines are involved – but the ability to work on all machines keeps Mr. Hinksman interested.

According to the most recent (2006) census statistics, 97 per cent of heavy equipment operators in B.C. were male and about half of them were between the ages of 45 and 64.

British Columbia's skilled workforce is expected to undergo an invisible shift in coming years as the pool of younger workers becomes smaller than the number of aging workers who have their eye on retirement. In a 10-part series, The Globe and Mail looks at the 10 jobs expected to be in highest demand in B.C. in the next decade. Check back every Monday for the latest instalment.