Zach Hopper was born and raised on British Columbia’s beautiful Sunshine Coast, on the Sechelt (shíshálh) First Nation Band Lands. His dad is a welder so he grew up with a curiosity about the trade. In Grade 12 Metal Shop, he finally got to try it. “I loved it!” he says, animatedly, and it is evident that this first flirtation awakened something in him, opening a possible path.
It’s a path he explored further in the year after high school, to see if it really was for him. It was. He worked first at a general fabrication shop and then at a yacht-building company. “All the different processes and techniques – even just the little bits that I got to do – I was hooked.”
So, when he approached the Band’s career counselor, his focus was on the practical: how to get into and pay for a welding program. The career counselor directed him to ACCESS, the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society, which offers customized employment and training services to members of the Lower Mainland urban Aboriginal community. Unfortunately, when Zach reached out to them, he learned their welding course was full for the coming year. He was disappointed but, characteristically, not discouraged. He asked to be placed on the waitlist. He had a feeling it would work out. It did.
Zach impressed ACCESS with excellent marks and perfect attendance during his seven-month Welding Foundations course. He was impressed by them too. “I was so appreciative to even be there. They really looked after us – before, during and after training.” It was there that Zach first heard about Seaspan. “My instructor worked there. He told me that it’s a very safety-focussed company, with good benefits and wages. And that there’s lots of welding there!”
His path to Seaspan was not destined to be straight, however. “It was tough. After graduating, I applied at 40 to 50 different places, starting with Seaspan, where I was part of a pool of 400-600 applicants, but I never got the call. I was being offered jobs for less than I was making before getting my ticket. My ACCESS instructor said ‘Just get your feet wet and get some experience,’ so I took that work for eight months and focussed on learning everything I could.” Still, he somehow knew that he would end up at Seaspan. He got the call some six months later and started at Seaspan on February 14, 2017. “The day I fell in love with my job,” he quips, with a chuckle, “more welding than I could ever dream of!”
Zach has worked on the first and second Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel and today is working on the third, as well as on the first Joint Support Ship being built for the Royal Canadian Navy. He describes working at Seaspan as rewarding and challenging. “There’s always something more to learn. And the process of building a ship is fascinating.” He appreciates the culture of safety at the shipyard and the fact that the company has invested in him, providing occasions to refine his welding technique through in-house training and sending him to school to upgrade his qualifications. And he has taken full advantage of those opportunities – he recently passed his Red Seal and is waiting to be signed off as a Journeyman.
Asked if he has advice to others who might follow in his footsteps, he says “Stay humble and work hard. There is always something for you to learn. If you keep your goals, no matter how unachievable they may at first appear, always before you, the success you seek will come to you. And keep close ties with ACCESS! They can help you in many ways.”