OPG’s ION program helps Indigenous grad get a foothold on career
Coming out of school in 2019 with a mechanical engineering degree, Thane Higgins found the job search to be an uphill battle as a recent graduate.
Jobs in retail and market research tided him over, but he couldn’t find anything relevant to his field of study.
That was until he came across OPG’s Indigenous Opportunities in Nuclear (ION) program last year.
Now he’s gaining valuable experience as an Executive Associate on the Darlington Refurbishment Project.
“This isn’t something I think I would have been able to attain on my own, and so I’m very grateful for ION’s help,” said Thane, a member of Constance Lake First Nation near Hearst in northeastern Ontario.
OPG’s ION program works with Kagita Mikam, an Indigenous employment and training agency, to recruit and place skilled and qualified members from Indigenous communities across Ontario in jobs within the nuclear and energy industries, including at OPG, union halls and vendor partner organizations. Funding for the program is provided by the Electrical Power Systems Construction Association.
To date, 52 candidates have found employment in the industry through the program.
After a thorough interview and security clearance check, Thane, a York University graduate, began his one-year contract with OPG in September 2020.
He now works in the Balance of Plant department for Darlington Refurb, which manages a number of projects to modify or replace components on the reactor and conventional side of units undergoing refurbishment.
Since the pandemic, Thane has been working from home in Toronto, and has only been able to tour the Darlington station twice. Nevertheless, he has been able to learn quite a lot on the job while shadowing a project engineer, who is acting as his mentor.
“I’m asking him questions every day, and he’s showing me the ropes and teaching me what it takes to be a project engineer at OPG,” he said.
Thane also provides support to the team wherever it’s needed, whether that’s in project planning, preparing and revising reports, handling schedules, or coordinating with different departments to manage the scope, planning, and execution of a project.
The job has been a natural fit for Thane, who never considered project management as a prospective career while in school.
“It wasn’t my first thought, but just going through my undergraduate degree I always ended up being put in the project lead role on assignments – working as a liaison, setting deliverables and schedules,” he explained. “It occurred to me I’ve already been doing this for so long, maybe it could be a career. That sparked my interest in letting ION know project management would be something I’d be interested in going towards.”
After his current contract expires, Thane hopes he can continue to learn in a similar entry-level, supporting role at OPG. With his sights set on becoming a project engineer, he has started the process to earn a Certified Associate in Project Management certification, which he hopes will help him gain a stronger foothold in his career.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to learn and gain experience,” Thane said of his time at OPG.
“Everyone needs to know that there are people that are willing to help and you just have to reach out to move forward on your career path.”