Tabitha Quintal

Before Tabitha Quintal, 29, registered with Syncrude’s Aboriginal Trades Preparation Program (SATP) in August 2010, the Métis mother of three worked long hours for little pay, barely had time for her family and had a hard time making ends meet.

“I was struggling. I seemed to work so much to make so little,” said Quintal from Syncrude’s office in Fort McMurray.

Quintal graduated from SATP in March 2011 and works at Syncrude’s base plant as a second-year apprentice instrument technician, earning $42 per hour — $54 per hour when she becomes a journeyman.

SATP introduces Aboriginal people to the trades and helps them understand the work culture.

The program offers skills training and academic upgrading.

Graduates have immediate job placement with Syncrude. In 2008, the company donated $2 million to Keyano College in Fort McMurray to fund the program.

Tabitha’s aunt, Marty Quintal, inspired Tabitha to enrol in the program. Marty is an instrument technician who has worked for Syncrude for 23 years and is now a senior leader in its extraction facility.

For Tabitha, working in the trades means a better quality of life.

“I make more money than I have ever made in my life. Because of my set shift Monday to Thursday, I have more time with my family than before with a three-day weekend,” Quintal said.

There is a good benefits package, and Quintal says she earns more than her husband, a sales manager in Fort McMurray. A convenient bilingual daycare across from the plant means she can visit her kids on breaks.

“We can afford to get the kids the dental coverage they need and spend more time as a family,” Quintal said.

To prepare for work with Syncrude, Quintal needed a high school diploma and earned her general equivalency diploma through SATP. Her SATP professor worked in the industry for more than 40 years and introduced the class to various trades.

“The one that interested me was instrument technician. I’ve always had a bit of a technical bent and love fixing things around the house. I find it satisfying to tackle a problem and find the solution,” she said.

After a one-month on-the-job placement, Quintal knew she was well-suited for the work. A technician monitors and maintains the instruments that measure and control flow rates, temperature and pressure of steam, water, gas and oil.

She now works in the upgrading department, where bitumen is turned into crude oil. As a second-year apprentice, she works alongside a journeyman.

Quintal recalls one of her most thrilling moments on the job.

“Something was wrong with one of our compressor pumps and we had to go in and troubleshoot and see what was tripping the alarms.

“It was exciting trying to figure out what was going on. We fixed it and it felt really great to have achieved that,” she said.

“There is nothing like it,” Quintal said as far as job satisfaction and opportunity.

“Without Syncrude’s Aboriginal Trades Prep program, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and that may change. There are plenty of people at Syncrude who started in the trades and are now project managers or leaders, like my Aunt Marty.”

For information about Syncrude’s Aboriginal Trades Preparation program contact Janet Lowndes of Keyano College at 780-791-8967, or email her at

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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