Spotlight on Health Care Assistant Jobs

By Maureen Latta

Donna Shaw, Heath Care Assistant

If you like caring for others and want a career where employment demand is high, consider becoming a Health Care Assistant.

Health Care Assistant workers are in steady demand in the Powell River region. In fact, the need for qualified workers has led Vancouver Island University’s Powell River campus to offer the Health Care Assistant Certificate program annually instead of every two years. Intake for 2014 is in late September.

The Health Care Assistant Certificate program prepares students to work mainly with seniors in complex care facilities, extended care units, home support agencies, and residential settings. To find out more about this profession from someone who has been working in the field for nearly 30 years, read the Career Sense interview with Donna Shaw.

VIU Administrative Coordinator Alison Turley says anyone interested in applying for the full-time, six-month program should start the application process now to gain a better chance of claiming one of the 16 spaces opening up in the fall.

“There’s always a wait list so we say the sooner the better because September intake fills up quickly,” says Turley.

Potential applicants should check the VIU website for admission requirements as soon as possible. In addition, applicants will need to provide proof of Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training and up-to-date immunizations by the first day of classes. WHMIS training can be taken through VIU’s Professional Development and Training.

As part of the Health Care Assistant program, students gain practical experience in a variety of settings, such as multi-level care, complex care, home support, and assisted living. Students are required to get their FoodSafe Level I certificate and Standard First Aid certificate prior to the first practice experience.

Turley says Vancouver Coastal Health typically hires program graduates for casual positions. “Anyone who is seriously interesting in finding employment finds a job within weeks of finishing the program,” she says.

Leonard Wegner, Manager at Olive Devaud Residence and Evergreen Extended Care, says about 10-15 Health Care Assistant workers are hired each year at the two facilities. All of the positions are casual. While it might take some people several years to get permanent work, others can get it fairly quickly. “It depends on how much they’re willing to work,” Wegner says. For those who want a permanent position, the average length of time is about three to four years, Wegner estimates.

Tuition for the certificate program, including student fees, is $2,570. Financial aid may be available. To find out more, you can book an appointment with a Career Link counsellor today by calling 604-485-7958.

Interview with Donna Shaw, Health Care Aide

By Maureen Latta

Donna Shaw
Donna Shaw

“I help the seniors meet their personal needs, whether it be dressing, eating, bathing, or moving from the bed to the wheelchair.

— Donna Shaw, Health Care Aide

Donna Shaw works as a Health Care Aide at Evergreen Extended Care, a multi-level care seniors’ facility in Powell River. She has been working in the Health Care Assistant field for 29 years. As a high-school student, she spent every Friday volunteering with seniors at Gorge Road Hospital in Victoria. When she graduated, it was a natural choice to make caregiving a career. In 1984, Shaw did a 13-week training program at Camosun College, one of the first years that training was offered as a college-level course. At Evergreen Extended Care, Shaw is a permanent, full-time employee working 12-hour shifts.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the Health Care Assistant profession?

The biggest change really stems from the type of people that live in the facilities now because it used to be, back 20 years ago, people didn’t live as long and seniors’ care was different then. There was intermediate care, extended care that you travelled through—the phases of senior care so to speak—and now it’s multilevel care. And we’re seeing a lot of different types of diseases now. Back in the late 80s, we didn’t see Huntington’s, we didn’t see Pick’s disease, we didn’t see Lewy Bodies. Over the years they’ve got good at diagnosing and recognizing different types of dementia. The treatments and the symptoms can be different. So as medicine learns more about those things then that impacts the way that we can care for the seniors, because we know more—so you’re a more effective caregiver. That change in itself brings about all kinds of philosophical changes because once you understand something better you realize, oh, that’s why that’s happening, therefore we can do this to make it better for the seniors, which makes it better for us, and better for the families.

What’s the most important thing to know for someone who might be considering a career as a Health Care Assistant?

I think they really need to spend some time volunteering in a facility. Communication is such a big part of what we do, communicating with seniors, with families, with coworkers. And there’re different avenues in seniors care. There’s extended care, there’s Olive Devaud, assisted living, home care. Most of us have our niche that we’re good at, and it’s important to know yourself, to really have a handle on who you are, to recognize which avenue of seniors care is your thing. Some people are awesome at home care, but in a facility maybe they’re not so good because that’s not their thing. It’s a very different setting. Globally, you’re doing the same thing, you’re helping seniors, but in a very different way. That’s why it’s really important to know yourself, especially when you’re working with people with dementia and diseases. Their behaviour is going to trigger you. Chances are their behaviour is going to be off because even with a stroke their behaviour and emotions can be off. We all have issues, we all have triggers in our life, and you really need to have a handle on those so that you can do your job well. Everyone wants to do their job well. And if you know yourself you can do your job better because then you’re not allowing life to make you react in a way you don’t choose to, because it’s very dynamic, it can be very dynamic.

What are some of the drawbacks or challenges of the job?

There are some avenues of personal care that can be quite shocking to people that aren’t in health care. Somebody when they’re doing their training might think, oh my gosh, I didn’t know I had to do that. If you’re going to do home care or you’re working assisted living, you don’t have to do that on a daily basis. You have to learn how to do that to graduate to be a professional because the type of care that’s delivered can vary quite greatly. People with certain diseases and lack of mobility can have problems with their elimination and you need to intervene to help them do those things, and that is not what most people would be comfortable doing. Assisted living is very different care than extended care due to the fact that the seniors are much more able-bodied. A lot of people who live at home with their spouse and children, they need help but they don’t need the level of help of extended care. So when students are doing their courses they go through home care, Olive Devaud and extended care and so they [students] have to do those things that they might not want to do on a daily basis. They have to learn how to do them, but just know that you might not have to do that every day, depending on where you work.

What’s the best thing about the job?

The best thing is the little rewards that you get. Like somebody that maybe hasn’t spoken in three months looks at you and says good morning. I had this gentleman one time, he was coming down to his room and I could tell by the look of him something was off. He was having a problem. I walked up and called him by name and I said, what’s the matter. He looked at me and he was frazzled and he said, I don’t know but you’ll know what I need. He didn’t know what he needed. He was having a moment, and he had big needs, but he was like, oh, it’s you, you’re going to know what to do, thank heavens. So that was a little moment that made the whole day worthwhile because he didn’t have to worry anymore. Those personal moments make it worthwhile.

Are there a lot of positions available? I understand people start out working as casuals.

CAM00174People don’t always stay in this profession for a long time. They come, they go. Younger people they move around, they say I want to branch out, I want to go to the city, I want to go to the Island, so according to their life, they leave town, they get married, their kids play hockey, their spouses get transferred, so there’s always a need for casuals.

You always start out casual, taking sick calls. When I phone in sick or take holidays, it’s a casual who comes in to work for me. All the hours are kept track of for seniority, and as job postings come up, you’re awarded jobs based on your seniority. You’re called to work by the scheduling clerks in order of your seniority. So the more work you do, the more work you get; and the more work you’re offered, the more choices you get. Because when you first start out, you pretty much take whatever shift you can get because it’s work.

A lot of people choose to be casual because it gives them more freedom in their lives. One of my coworkers worked casual the whole time her children were growing up and didn’t make it permanent until her children had graduated high school. So once she reached a large amount of seniority, she could say, I don’t want to work weekends anymore, and I don’t want that shift, and I want to work these shifts, and she could work the shifts she wanted because she was offered everything.

As a care aide, they can work in the acute-care hospital as well. Some of the care aides really like that, working one-on-one in the hospital as an extra pair of hands. They like that environment. As a casual, you can work multiple places, but each one would have a different scheduling clerk calling you. Especially people who are new to the industry, the excitement and interest of working in the acute-care hospital—some of the girls really find that they like that challenge, that variety. If you work in the hospital, what you’re doing is, of course, definitely to your skill set. You don’t have a patient load or you don’t have a huge amount of responsibility. You’re doing one on one, someone needs you to sit with the senior and keep an eye on them and you’re doing that, because right now there’s a lot of seniors in the hospital awaiting placement, so you might be helping with them, or you might be working as an extra pair of hands up on Psychiatry. And those are all things you can choose to work. You don’t have to, it’s all choices. Some of the casuals also work in some of the group homes. There are so many different avenues that open up for you with this training. Evergreen and Olive Devaud can be very physically demanding jobs, so after 10 or 15 years, you might think, physically I could really use a break, so you might stay with the career but change worksites.

How mobile is this profession?

It’s all changed recently in the last few years. You can do what’s called “port” your seniority. If I go casual to casual or get a casual position in a different health authority, I can take my seniority with me. As a permanent, if I am a successful applicant in a permanent posting in another facility, I can bring my sick time and my holiday days with me. Under our collective agreement, any facility that bargains under the same collective agreement, I can do that with. The government facilities in the province all bargain together. Vancouver Coastal Health has one seniority umbrella. Once I’m employed by Vancouver Coastal Health, I can apply at any Vancouver Coastal site for a job, so it’s very easy to move amongst Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. So that’s a very immediate option, if I’m looking at Vancouver or Burnaby or wherever, I can shuffle very easily.

And the wage?

It’s a pretty good wage. You work for it, but it’s a good wage. We don’t have a lot of levels to our wage. It’s about $22 per hour. If you work weekends and nights, you get what’s called shift differential, so if I work nights I get a buck extra an hour; if I work weekends I get an extra whatever it is an hour. And casuals get a percentage of their holiday pay and stat holiday pay on every cheque.

How to Apply for Financial Supports for Apprenticeships


Please note that this article appears on our website at and it will be henceforth updated at that location.

There are four steps for applying for Apprentice Financial Supports:

  1. Complete Apprentice Online Portal (AOP) Application
    You must apply in the Apprentice Online Portal prior to your school start date to receive funding. Ideally this step should be completed 4 weeks before the start of your class.
  2. Create Basic BCeID Account
    The first step of your application will ask you to create an online account with the provincial government called a Basic BCeID; remember your login information, you will need it for the next step!
  3. Obtain EI Reference Code
    2-3 business days after you submit your application, you will receive an email advising you to log into your BCeID account to View the Notification containing your EI Reference Code (log in at by clicking on the Continue button; for instructions on viewing your Notification go to same website and click on the link below the Start button that says “For instructions on how to retrieve your EI Reference Code click here”).
  4. Apply for Employment Insurance
    Once you have your reference code, you will apply for regular EI through Service Canada or in-person at your local Service Canada office); provide your 16-digit EI Reference Code as directed.

You must complete all of these steps, in the order provided, to successfully apply for Apprentice Financial Supports and EI while attending school!

FAQs About Apprentice Financial Supports

Q: Why do I need to apply in the Apprentice Online Portal (AOP)?
A: There are two essential reasons why you must apply in the AOP:

  1. The AOP is where you apply for your provincial benefits including commuting, dependent care, disability, living away from home, and travel benefits. This is the only way to apply for and receive these benefits, and these are in addition to the Federal EI money you may receive; you may be eligible for these benefits even if you are not eligible for EI.
  2. Your application in the AOP generates the EI Reference Code that you will need to apply for Employment Insurance; this code is absolutely necessary to be able to receive EI while you attend school, since students attending full-time school are normally not eligible for EI.
    It is very important that you only use the EI Reference Code generated by your application—EI Reference Codes are time-limited and location-specific so you must use the correct one for you or your EI claim may not be successful!

Q: What does the term “Sponsor” mean?
A: The term “Sponsor” refers to an employer or union sponsor who is guaranteeing you a job when you finish school. This may mean you have a job until school starts, then you will receive a temporary lay-off to attend school, and then return to work for the same employer. It may also mean that you are a member of a union that will provide you with work when you finish your course. It does not mean that you have someone paying for your course; even if you are paying for your own education, as long as you have a job guaranteed when you finish school, you have a “Sponsor”.
If you do not have an employer/union sponsor, contact your local WorkBC office as soon as possible; use the interactive map at to find the office nearest you. If you do not have a sponsor you must go through an alternate application process.

Q: How do I get my EI Reference Code?
A: Your EI Reference Code is generated by your application in the Apprentice Online Portal (AOP). You must complete the following steps to obtain your code:

  1. Complete the Apprentice Online Portal application prior to your course start date
  2. Wait 2-3 business days to receive the email notification to log back into your BCeID account
  3. Log into your BCeID account by clicking the Continue button at
  4. Click on the View button to see the Notification containing your EI reference code

If you have completed the application more than 3 days ago and you are having difficulty finding your code, please go to and click on the link below the Start button that says “For instructions on how to retrieve your EI Reference Code click here”).

Q: Why does my “Application Status” say Preapproved when I am already accepted by BCIT/already in class?
A: Your application will stay in Preapproved status until approximately one week after you have started school. About one week after your start date, the school will confirm you are attending and then your application will move into “ICM” status.

Q: Why does my Application Status say “ICM”? Does this mean “Incomplete”?
A: The status “ICM” is actually a good thing! This means that your attendance has been confirmed by your school and that your application has now been accepted into the province’s database, which is called the “Integrated Case Management” system or “ICM”. At this point your funding eligibility will be reviewed by Service Canada and the Province of BC.

Q: I received an email that my AOP application status is “Closed” because my attendance has not been confirmed by my school, but I have been attending the whole time. What’s wrong?
A: There can be two main reasons why this might happen:

  1. If you select the wrong course title when you complete your application, your attendance might not be marked with the rest of your class.
  2. If you enter your first name and last name incorrectly or in reverse you may not be marked attending.

In either case, you can still be confirmed as attending after the fact; simply contact the WorkBC office closest to your school using the interactive map to find the nearest location; call them and tell them you are an apprentice and you need your attendance confirmed. They will look up your class list to confirm you are on it and then they will mark you attending. Your application will then go through the regular eligibility confirmation process.

Working in “Fort Mac”– a primer

Welcome_to_fort_mcmurrayI have a friend working up in Fort McMurray who has steadily moved up the ranks in the industry.  I got in touch with him over the weekend to ask a few questions about the industry and what it takes to successfully land a job.

-Brodie D’Angio

Fort McMurray – Questions:

We’re trying to put together information for job seekers looking for jobs in Alberta. I was wondering if you might be able to answer a few questions…

First, I was hoping you might be able to provide some brief job profiles. What are a few of the common positions at your company, and what are some common positions you see in general in Fort McMurray

-The entry level position in my company is labourer. This is the same for many of the larger contractors in town. Labourers typically make $25-$30/hr in the mines. The work isn’t overly demanding. It often involves traffic control (flagging), moving around lighting plants, pumping water, running supplies out to heavy equipment operators and other general tasks. Labourers who perform well can typically expect to get a chance to run smaller haul trucks or other heavy equipment within their first year of employment.

-The bulk of our workers are a variety of heavy equipment operators. Many people who come to Fort Mac want to drive the big haul trucks in the mines. You don’t require any official training or tickets to run the haul trucks or most of the heavy equipment. There are lots of expensive courses ($5,000-$10,000) that can teach you the basics of running equipment, but these courses alone aren’t usually enough to get you jobs running machines. Many of the labourers on my crew have taken these courses.

-These heavy equipment operator jobs usually pay $35-$40/hr when working for major contractors, or significantly more for those employed by the mines themselves. Much of this work is seasonal, with workers constantly jockeying for jobs and getting hired/laid off as projects open and close. There is a constant demand for experienced heavy equipment operators, so those with experience on excavators, graders, dozers etc should have no problem finding high paying work. Lots of our operators come from other industries around the country, such as logging or even farming.

Second, what would these jobs require as pre-requisites, but more importantly how would someone land a job in Fort McMurray…

-It’s very hard to find entry level work in the mines. A massive number of unskilled people from all over the country swarm here in hopes of making the big bucks, and competition for entry level positions is brutal. Ticketed tradespeople are constantly in demand and will have a much, much easier time finding high paying work. The job that seems to be in highest demand as far as I can tell is crane operators.  A very large number of them are needed in construction and the union boards are filled with crane jobs.

What type of certificates are required and which are assets?

-To work in any field on any of the oil sands sites, you need two relatively easy-to-get, generic training courses. They are OSSA (Oil Sands Safety Association) and CSTS (Construction Safety Training Systems). These two classes can be taken together at the local college (Keyano College) and take one full day. They are offered a few times each week.

-Anything safety related would be a huge asset. The ability to follow safety rules and regulations is by far the single most important thing anybody looks for here. Any way that a safe work record can be highlighted in a job application would be a big help.

Is it possible to do from out of town (say applying from PR?)

-Absolutely, all job applications are pretty much done online. Many places only accept online applications.

Some websites I recommend are:

  • Fort McMurray Online – Solid classifieds, gives a good slice of work both in town and in the mines
  • Infomine – A large mining website, more suited for people with experience in a trade
  • Fort McMurray Jobs FB page: -Handy little Q&A put on by people like you, they list jobs fairs etc.
  • IUOE 955 Job Board – This is the union I’m in. Almost all of the major mining contractors hire their equipment operators through here. None of the sites themselves, however, are connected to this union.

What makes one resume stand out from another?

-From what I’ve been told, they really prefer concise, fact based resumes here. The big companies deal with pretty massive volumes of resumes and want to get to the important goods right away. Many of these companies will make you go through their own application portals on their websites rather than let you just send in resumes. From what I’ve been told, these applications are searched for key words (like specific names and sizes of heavy equipment) and sorted that way.

Do many people use hiring agencies?

-Not 100% on this but I don’t feel that they do. Most of the mines and major contractors have pretty big HR departments that handle this stuff.

Also, what time of year is best for applying and when is the worst?

-We have spring breakup here, which occurs when temperatures come above freezing and all the winter’s snow and ice melts (late March). During this time, pretty much nothing moves at all as the mud is just not worth the effort of battling. At this time, many winter workers leave to their home provinces and stay there until the following winter.

In my opinion, right after breakup is the best time to look for work as all the summer projects that couldn’t be done during the frozen times open up, and many people are needed to both fill new spots and replace those who don’t come back after the breakup. Summer is steadily busy for work, and sometimes early fall can get busy with companies trying to get projects done before the big freeze.

There’s a lesser version of the breakup in the fall when temperatures hover around zero, freezing, melting and making a mess.  The winter is a prime time for major mining operations because heavy trucks can drive on the frozen ground without getting stuck, so usually there is lots of work in January-February.

-I very strongly recommend that anyone who wants to come up here takes their time and looks very carefully at the job market here, which can be seen very clearly from anywhere.  Most people working in fast food/grocery etc. are people who came out here to work in the mines but haven’t been able to get in yet.

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