An Invermere construction company relies on apprentices for its enviro-friendly projects
“We build houses for regular people,” says Meredith Hamstead, co-owner of Invermere’s thinkBright Homes. What the company doesn’t do, though, is build ordinary homes. Rather, while sticking to reasonable budgets, “We build high-performance homes, which means they are very energy efficient. They have high air quality, sound quality and temperature stability.”
Another aspect that makes thinkBright stand out is the employees it uses for its building, renovation and energy-retrofit projects. Rather than relying exclusively on experienced carpenters with established skills, Hamstead, along with husband and co-owner Paul Denchuck, is committed to hiring apprentices. “We pair apprentices with senior carpenters and we teach them our systems for achieving the highest levels of energy efficiency,” Hamstead says. “It’s easier to train than retrain. It’s more productive.”
Fred Comeau is one of these employees. A first-year carpentry apprentice, he started with thinkBright in February 2021 and is being paid in part by Columbia Basin Trust’s School Works Apprentice Wage Subsidy. Administered by College of the Rockies, this program helps organizations in the Basin hire apprentices in 20 trades, including carpentry.
Originally from New Brunswick, Comeau comes to thinkBright with a diverse background, which includes a university degree in civil engineering, several seasons of treeplanting and Selkirk College’s program in fine woodworking. When he saw thinkBright’s posting for an apprentice carpenter and spoke to Hamstead and Denchuck, his switch into carpentry “just kind of crystalized,” he says.
He really appreciates his employers’ commitment to the environment, and to their staff. “The impact that thinkBright is having and the way that Paul and Meredith value their employees—that’s what brought me here.” He has also been “lucky to be assigned to a bunch of different projects. It’s been very diversified and engaging. The team I’m working with is awesome.”
Hamstead agrees that Comeau has fit right into the thinkBright system and its current roster of five other apprentice carpenters, all in various years. “He has been an unbelievable hire,” Hamstead says. “We hope he’s with us through his four years of apprenticeship—and then longer. Our company model is ‘careers,’ not ‘jobs.’”
It’s stories like these that affirm the program is doing its job. The Trust offers the apprentice wage subsidy program so employers can meet their workforce needs both today and into the future.
In fact, this program supports the retention of participating apprentices if the employer chooses to retain them to complete work-based training requirements in the same trade, beyond Level 1. Apprentices gain know-how they will use throughout their careers.
Overall, the program helps the region maintain a diverse and resilient economy supported by strong businesses, a trained workforce and sufficient job opportunities. To date the Trust has supported 126 apprentices.
Comeau agrees his time with thinkBright has been highly valuable; the position is giving him confidence in both his building skills and his ability to lead. “I know that there’s potential for growth, for more responsibility as I get more comfortable as a carpenter. This whole experience is a great personal expansion experience and a stepping stone to bigger things.”
To thinkBright, having a range of reliable staff like Comeau has been more important lately than ever. More people want environmentally friendly homes, and BC government building codes are also gradually requiring higher energy efficiency. The pandemic has also increased the demand for construction. These factors mean that thinkBright has recently been “full steam ahead.”
Happily, the Trust’s wage subsidy program has been there to help. This is the second time thinkBright has benefited from it. “The support that the Trust provides makes it a really good idea to take a chance on an apprentice; we can focus on training with some lightened budget considerations,” Hamstead says. “When you have an applicant like Fred, who is completely committed, and prepared to put the time in to learn the trade, and we have the support from the Trust, hiring an apprentice is a no-brainer.”