Building a Safe, Successful Career: 15-Year Employee Balances Family, Work & School

Tom Wolsey, Drayton Valley maintenance manager, and Larry Mooney with his Byron McKenna Memorial Award for Safety certificate

Larry Mooney, heavy equipment technician apprentice at our Drayton Valley, Alberta, lumber mill, is working hard to grow his career with the company. And he’s doing so, in part, by following in his family’s footsteps.

Larry is halfway through a four-year apprenticeship program at Lakeland College in Vermilion, studying to become a certified heavy equipment technician. It’s the same apprenticeship program his father, Chris Mooney, graduated from in 2015.

Larry currently works side by side with his dad, a tradesman mechanic, and his brother Johnathan, a forklift operator. Together, they form the largest official family unit at Drayton Valley.

Image of Larry with his dad, Chris, and his brother, Johnathan, in front of Chris' toolbox, which is just over six feet tall.

The Mooney family — Larry, his dad Chris and his brother Johnathan — in front of Chris' toolbox, which is just over six feet tall.


After first working in the oil industry, Larry joined Weyerhaeuser in fall 2008. He’s held a variety of roles to learn different operations at the mill. He started in the planer mill, then moved to the kilns as a power engineer backup. From there he went to shipping, back to the sawmill, the log yard and most recently to the maintenance shop.

“I do just about anything needed to maintain our big off-road equipment,” Larry says. “We have everything from skidders, swing machines and bucket loaders to forklifts and pickup trucks.”

“I really enjoy working in the shop, and I decided this is where I want to focus my career growth,” he says. “So I took inspiration from Dad and applied to the mill’s trades apprenticeship program.”

The apprenticeship program has been in place since 1987 and is sponsored by Weyerhaeuser in partnership with provincial and federal governments. Candidates apply for the program just as they would for a job. They must pass an aptitude test and an interview with company and union representatives.

Larry had applied for other electrical and millwright apprenticeship programs unsuccessfully over the years before being chosen for this one.

“I’m proud that I didn’t give up, and I’m glad I landed at Lakeland in Vermilion,” he says. “I’m literally following in my father’s footsteps at school and at work. We share everything; I even have a key to his toolbox. How many people can say they get this kind of opportunity?”

Image of Larry with his kids, Summer (3) and Garrett (5).

Larry with his kids, Summer (3) and Garrett (5). 'Having a job where I can go home nightly is fantastic!' Larry says. 'I love having the time to play and watch them grow. I'm waiting to see if Garrett gets taller than me the same way I got taller than my dad! Ha!'


Lakeland College’s four-year heavy equipment technician apprenticeship program is focused on building specific skills needed to maintain trailers, off-road and on-road vehicles. For each year of study, students complete 240 hours of classroom time and 1,500 hours of relevant work time.

Because he says the dormitories are just not a fit for him, when he attends class Larry drives his camper 340 kilometers (211 miles) from his home in Rocky Rapids to Vermilion for classroom time.

“I highly recommend the Vermilion Lakeland College,” Larry says. “They’ve got a phenomenal program and the instructors are second to none.”

Larry is one of 16 students in the class, and he’s been the second-oldest student both years. But he doesn’t see other students as his real competition in terms of classroom performance.

“Here’s where we get back to my dad,” Larry says. “Not only was he also the second-oldest of most of his classes, but I'm trying my best to do as good as he did. But I still haven't been able to touch his marks. My first year I thought I did really well and finished with a 95. But Dad finished his first year with a 97!”


Larry’s achievements have been exemplary in his own right. In fact, he recently received Lakeland’s Byron McKenna Memorial Award, which recognizes one full-time student from each year of the program for “exhibiting safety standards and promoting those standards among other students.”

“It's a safety award, isn't that cool?” Larry says. “I really appreciate that safety’s also number one at Drayton Valley. I’m never expected to put myself in a situation where I could get hurt trying to save time or money. That’s so important to me, and completely different than when I worked in the oil field.”

Larry also says he feels fortunate to be supported by Weyerhaeuser, both during his classroom time and in encouraging him to attend the award ceremony.

“While I was there, I got to meet the college president, hang out with the dean and chair of Trades, and meet up with my instructors,” he says. “It made me feel like a real VIP. I try to work really hard at Drayton Valley and in school, and I appreciate being recognized for my efforts to make safety number one in the program.”


Larry says he’s not expecting the next few years to be easy, but he knows the effort he’s investing in his apprenticeship studies will support his long-term career goal of eventually retiring with Weyerhaeuser.

“Of course, you can have a career as a laborer, but an apprenticeship opens up other internal career avenues,” he says. “When I complete the program, I’ll get my Red Seal, so I’ll be known as a Red Seal Certified Equipment Technician, or a journeyman mechanic.”

The Red Seal program sets common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada. Sometimes referred to as a trade’s equivalent to a four-year bachelor’s degree, workers with a Red Seal Certification are recognized as having demonstrated a high level of proficiency in their field.

Right now, there are only two other journeymen mechanics in the Drayton Valley maintenance shop — Larry’s father Chris and Mike Bridges, who’s also teaching Larry in the shop. And they’re not the only ones excited for Larry as he works toward his goals.

“For the nearly 15 years Larry has been with our site, he has always been a pleasure to work with,” says Tom Wolsey, maintenance manager. “His caring attitude always shows through in his interactions, so to have him receive this prestigious award for sharing our core values in safety is well deserved. We’re proud of his recognition!”