Ross Jespersen says he is lucky.
When he graduated from the University of Victoria back in April of this year, with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he jumped right into what he describes as his dream job: working on the power systems of the Sir John Franklin, the first of the three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV) that Seaspan is building for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS).
That may seem like a very specific dream for a young graduate to have, but there’s a backstory. Ross is from a long line of people who have made ships and boats their business. His great-grandfather, back in Denmark worked in a shipyard, as did his father before him. When Ross’ grandfather came to Canada, he started a business building and repairing yachts in Sidney, British Columbia. Ross’ Dad runs the business now, and, at one time, Ross thought his future lay there too. That is, until he actually worked there for a few summers. “That was some pretty tough physical work,” laughs Ross, “It got me thinking, hard, about pursuing further education.”
He decided to study engineering at the University of Victoria, in a co-op program, where, as luck would have it, his second internship took him to Seaspan. There, he glimpsed a different future. Seaspan, under the NSS, was hard at work building ships, and, importantly, developing a new generation of shipbuilders, much needed after the lull in the sector of the 80’s and 90’s. “That’s where I got a taste for it; I knew I wanted to be part of that.” He came back for a second placement in his fourth year, hoping that would help him get invited back to work full time after graduation. He was. “My degree took me five years of hard work, then it all paid off in one phone call – so cool.”
Today, Ross provides engineering support to the team of electricians who are completing the final installation and commissioning of the electrical equipment onboard the first OFSV. “And honestly,” he adds with a quick smile, “the support goes both ways – this is a really experienced group of electricians, I’m learning a lot from them and they’re helping me develop as an engineer.”
Ross says it’s a massive and complex undertaking to build a ship of this size, with so many people involved. He credits his two internships working under Alex Greig, his current manager, with preparing him to take on this challenge.
“We’re pushing pretty hard to finish the electrical systems on the first ship now; we’re almost there, we turned on the fire suppression systems last week; steering gear too; and the accommodations are ready to go. I helped make the arrangements for those spaces — where to put lights; receptacles; Ethernet connections. There’s a lot that goes in there and not a lot of extra space. Having something produced in real life isn’t always exactly what you thought it would be from even the most detailed two-dimensional drawing, so I try to think of the end user to decide on the exact location of things. Some are straightforward, like the best position for the reading light at the head of the bed or ethernet cable at the desk for the phone, but when I have questions about how something is likely to get used when the ship is in operation, I talk to the Coast Guard to figure out what we should be going for.”
Ross loves the partnership aspect of working on the OFSV, working through problems with others, and seeing continuous progress on the ship week to week. He’s pretty happy overall, actually. “I didn’t want to work anywhere else; I really wanted to work on the NSS,” he said, before adding, “I got to jump in right out of school — not everyone gets their dream job on their first shot. Lucky, right?”
Seaspan certainly feels lucky to have him and is proud to know that Ross’ success cascades out to the shipyard and the NSS, contributing to the rebuilding of Canada’s shipbuilding sector and to the renewal of Canada’s fleets.