Maritime Environmental Training Institute
Knowing what the industry wants before the industry knows they want it – that's the motto of the Maritime Environmental Training Institute (METI). To make that happen, Vice Principal Joe Pembroke spends much of his time researching what's new in the oil and gas and construction industries. "We do non-stop research about what jobs are out there and what training those jobs require," says Pembroke. "We offer the best training for the best jobs."
Registered with the Nova Scotia Department of Education, this private career college in Sydney, Nova Scotia, offers two diploma programs and a wide range of individual courses focused on both safety and environmental training. METI’s students range from individuals hoping to work in a lucrative and secure field to experienced workers upgrading or acquiring new skills.
Pembroke says their training is consistently high quality, largely due to the experts they hire as instructors and trainers. "The calibre of our instructors is second to none," he says. "These people are all professionals actively working in the industry." METI currently provides training for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the Cape Breton Regional Police, and Earth Tech, the company that's overseeing the cleanup of the Sydney Tar Ponds.
Created in 1998, METI was the brainchild of Pembroke’s father, Kevin. His company, Pembroke Construction, was a key player in construction and remediation in Cape Breton. But the company always had trouble finding skilled workers in the region. "The individuals just didn't have the appropriate training, so he started offering courses,” says Joe Pembroke. The first courses focused on hazardous waste training for the Sydney Tar Ponds.
But it wasn't until 2003, when the junior Pembroke took over the operations of METI that it expanded past this initial comfort zone. Its main diploma program is still the 18-week Environmental Health and Safety Program, but MEIT also offers the only Department of Education-sanctioned Scaffolding Certification for High Rise Construction training in the province. In addition, nearly 30 other courses, ranging from one day to 40 hours, are available. They cover everything from forklift operation to confined space and fall protection training to transportation of dangerous goods.
METI's involvement with industry associations such as the Labourers' International Union of North America, Enform (the training, certification and health and safety services arm of the upstream petroleum industry), and the Oil Sands Safety Association has raised the school's profile. But it has also made it possible for METI to provide very specialized training for companies working in the oil sands in Alberta. "Our school is really well known out there," says Pembroke. "All the main players – Canadian Natural Resources, Suncor Energy, and Syncrude – know who we are and use us for training."
It's obviously a good fit. There are scores of Cape Bretoners working in the oil sands and many more who want jobs there. "We put a lot of people to work and give Cape Bretoners an opportunity they never had before," Pembroke says. In fact, he was recently approached by a man who took METI's scaffolding course last year. "He dropped by to tell me that he'd worked for 10 years without a raise in his old job. He came in to shake my hand and tell me that now he's financially stable. That happens quite often."
It's these success stories that makes Pembroke love his line of work. He recently heard from a woman who took the oil sands training and cleared $1,400 in her first week of work. This was after 14 years of employment in a grocery store making minimum wage. "I feel like we're really helping people here," says Pembroke. "It's very rewarding."
Training upwards of 2,000 people each year, Pembroke believes part of METI's success lies in the school's philosophy. "I consider innovation a matter of continuous daily improvement," he says. "We're always upgrading our skills and offering new programs."
Three new programs are set to launch later this year, including the innovative "Fire Watch" course. It teaches individuals how to fight fires using the most sophisticated fire simulator in Canada. METI is the first organization in Atlantic Canada to provide training on this high quality piece of equipment and Pembroke is hoping it will lead training programs for fire fighters.
Although situated in Cape Breton, METI's students come from all four Atlantic provinces. Pembroke says many are older workers and a number are also repeat customers. "A lot of our phone calls come from folks who have taken some of our training and were happy with it and would like some more. We have a loyal base of students."
Most of the students take their courses right at the school in Sydney, but METI occasionally takes its act on the road, travelling to workplaces to provide on-site training. The Department of National Defence (DND) in Halifax is a major client.
Originally from Glace Bay, Pembroke feels encouraged by what he sees happening in Cape Breton. There's lots of new construction, radio stations are popping up, and attitudes are more positive. "People seem to be getting out there more and creating opportunities."
Pembroke himself comes from a family of go-getters. "We're all about seeing a need and trying to fill the need," he says. "We're not afraid to take a risk." In the case of METI, his risk is paying off and Pembroke feels fortunate indeed. "I feel lucky that I can live in the place that I love and have meaningful work."