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Welding instructor Mark Flynn looks over student Joe Zhou’s work in the welding shop at BCIT in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday.

Ben Nelms/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 10.

Mark Flynn was installing gas mains when he saw the job he really wanted being done by others on the sites where he worked.

"I was working hard labour and the welders were getting [paid] more and working not as hard," Mr. Flynn said in an interview this week.

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That prompted him to sign up to become one of those welders, studying at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where he is now program head for the welding department.

Training new welders is the latest professional stop in a career that has included about 25 years welding, including a lot of repair work in the aerospace sector.

Although now in the classroom because he wanted more time with family, Mr. Flynn, 44, says he still gets called out of the classroom to pick up a torch.

"I enjoy welding. I still enjoy welding. I don't consider it work," he said. "I enjoy the fact that you're actually making something a lot of the time, so you're getting a stack of raw material on one side and putting something out the other side.

"It can be anything. Welding is a lot of different things – buildings and bridges and all kinds of different legacy projects that you can actually see 20 years later. It's a very wide-ranging field, and you can have a career in many different industries."

He also says it is a smart move in terms of opportunities. "Anyone who wants to work will find a job," he says. "They should be able to find work in B.C."

Mr. Flynn said prospective liquefied natural gas and other megaprojects could generate welding jobs around British Columbia, but as they draw workers outside the Lower Mainland that will create a vacuum for others to fill. It's a cycle of prosperity for welders.

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The province is expected to need at least 3,980 welders and related machine operators over the next 10 years. That means a lot of demand for the students Mr. Flynn sees through their training at BCIT.

According to the provincial Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Ministry's WorkBC website, it is a 98 per cent male field, and average pay is $44,000 to $53,000 a year. There are three levels of certification in B.C., each taking a year to earn, the agency says.

WorkBC says the duties range across custom fabrication, ship building and repair, aerospace precision welding, pressure vessel building, pipeline construction welding, structural construction welding or machinery- and equipment-repair welding.

Through WorkBC, the province is forecasting a 10.8 per cent profession unemployment rate in the metal forming, shaping and erecting trades in 2015, declining to 9.8 per cent in 2020. Increased automation will decrease the number of new jobs, but the technology could increase the need for specially skilled welding machine setters and operators. WorkBC says construction welders and those repairing equipment will not be as affected by technological change because their jobs are not as easily automated.

Construction-related manufacturing such as architectural and structural metal fabrication will likely offer the most notable demand for welders and machine operators in coming years, WorkBC says.

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