Steel Day is showcasing not just nuts and bolts but mice and keyboards. When students think of a career in construction, steel detailing may not be the first option that springs to mind. But Vancouver Community College's (VCC) CAD and BIM programs aimed to dispel that notion when the school opened its doors at the downtown Vancouver campus for Steel Day recently.
"The architectural drawing program fills first. People think they know what an architect does, but they generally don't know what a steel detailer does until we show them," instructor Graham Huckin said.
Though this is the first time the program has conducted an open house for Steel Day, "I've been going to Steel Day and planting the VCC flag," Huckin said, adding he is also a member of the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction.
VCC's drafting program was established in 1949 and is the oldest such program in the province. It updated its focus towards CAD and BIM two years ago.
Students learn steel detailing, architectural drawing or structural drawing in the program, Huckin said, starting with learning terminology from a digital version of standard worksheets.
Depending on what stream the students take, they can then learn REVIT for architectural drawing or TEKLA, a steel detailing software package.
"Once the students know how to use the software, it's easier then when we had to keep all the details in our heads," Huckin said.
While the construction industry is experimenting with the integrated project delivery (IPD) model on some projects, VCC has a new diploma program focused on IPD.
"We have our first crop of students going through the (diploma) program," said department leader Bruce McGarvie, "and we have architectural, structural and steel detailing students working together."
The program is also the only steel detailing program in Western Canada, McGarvie said, adding the school fields inquiries for recent graduates from companies in Kelowna, Vancouver Island, Alberta and as far away as Washington State and Texas.
McGarvie also pointed to projects such as the new walkway at the Broadway Skytrain station, the Vancouver Convention Centre, One World Trade in New York City and SafeCo Field in Seattle as examples of large-scale steel detailing work in the real world.
"The Denver Art Museum was done in Burnaby, and I had a hand in the Vancouver Convention Centre," Huckin said.
"Every piece of steel needs a drawing," McGarvie added.
Once a student graduates from the program they can usually find work at a steel fabricator or a firm contracted out to provide steel detailing for a fabricator. Steel detailing is also, McGarvie said, one of the few industries where professional engineering credentials aren't required for promotion.
"A lot can be done by a certified steel detailer and many local drafting firms are owned by VCC grads," he said. "Just about every student gets hired, but it fluctuates with the economy."
Until recently oil and gas projects were the mainstays for steel detailing work, but commercial buildings have supplanted the resource sector.
"Think of Home Depot. It's concrete, but with structural steel inside," Huckin said.
Highrises in Canada tend to be concrete, he added, but in the United States steel dominates, requiring steel detailing on many projects.
"The advantage of steel is speed of erection," he said. "Steel is the middle ground between modular and onsite."