Kristy Bjerke is a key cog that helps keep the Alberta oil industry flowing.
The 23-year-old graduate of Lambton College’s Electrical Techniques program is helping turn the perception that the industry is male-dominated.
Born and raised in the Yukon, Bjerke had considered a career in the computer industry, like her brother.
“It didn’t work out,” she says. The computer industry’s loss was the oil industry’s gain.
Always a natural whiz when it came to mathematics, Bjerke decided a trade career where she could utilize her strong math skills made sense. After her parents moved across the country and settled in Chatham, Bjerke discovered Lambton’s electrical techniques program online.
She visited the college and was quickly attracted to the impressive labs and smaller class sizes. Lambton was an easy choice over other colleges, she says, as the program allows students access to state-of-the-art labs and facilities within Lambton College's Skilled Trades Training Centre.
“I wanted to get into electrical and Lambton offered me what I needed to get into the trade.”
She made the drive to and from Chatham every day and says the faculty members were always willing to spend extra time to work with students.
“I really enjoyed the lab time. It was very helpful,” Bjerke says. “It was very hands on and a tough course.”
She was one of five females of the 36 students to start the course. Bjerke excelled at Lambton’s program, and was named top student in her graduating class last year.
“That meant a lot to me,” she says.
She was also chosen to represent Lambton at a Skills Canada Trade competition for Ontario.
By the end of the one-year course she was able to look at drawings, learn the design and construct a residential electrical panel. Look, study, build.
For the past few months Bjerke has been working for Bi-systems Electric and Controls in Lloydminster, Alberta, hugging the Saskatchewan border. However, the complex electrical panels she builds today are far more complex than anything she worked on before.
“There’s a science to it,” she explains. “We make panels for the oil industry. They’re very complex — not just the breaker units you’d see in a residential home.”
Instead, they control the electrical systems for massive instruments and gauges, or can control engine components for oil equipment and hydraulic systems.
Some can take days to build, with an intricate collection of wiring. The smallest one she has constructed took seven hours.
“They give me a drawing and I make it.”
She’s a woman with a career plan that does not include building electrical panels forever. She plans on staying out west for a few years as she works towards her apprenticeship. She’s currently in the first year of four to get her journeyperson’s ticket.
After that it’ll be another four years before she can test for her masters ticket. Then, it’s another seven years before the end goal, a chance to become an electrical inspector.
“I still remember the day in college when we had an electrical inspector come in and talk to the class,” she says.
“That’s my end goal.”