As part of a large Ukrainian family, Vernon’s Terry Konopada learned about hard work at an early age.
He gained essential labour skills while working on farms and orchards while growing up in the North Okanagan. After graduating high school, Konopada moved to Prince George where he worked for his uncle in the wholesale grocery business.
Konopada eventually obtained his Class 1 driver’s license and drove semis, delivering groceries for more than eight years. He later had an opportunity to start an apprenticeship in refrigeration and gained his journeyman Red Seal working in the pulp mills and industries in Prince George.
He also married and started raising a family.
After his divorce, Konopada returned to the North Okanagan where he worked and gained more experience in refrigeration and the HVAC industry, eventually working with CIMCO, installing hockey rinks and working in industrial refrigeration.
Four years ago, while recovering from a shoulder injury, Konopada hit a major stumbling block. While on his morning walk, a tightening in his chest urged him to drive up to Vernon Jubilee Hospital to see what was happening.
Doctors confirmed that Konopada had a mild heart attack.
It was the kind of wake-up call that Konopada didn’t expect or want, but looking back, it set him on an uphill path to a new job and life.
Knowing Where to Turn
Upon his recovery, Konopada decided to visit the WorkBC Centre in Lumby, where he met with Employment Case Manager Carmen Phillips, and later with WorkBC Vernon Employment Skills Facilitator Liana Bjerstedt, who helped set him on a path back into the workforce.
To find the right job placement, Konopada decided to renew his then expired Class 1 Commercial License and undergo air brake training.
“That’s what turned it around for me. Carmen and I did all the prep work and collected the data so that I could have a job I could fall back on,” Konopada says.
Konopada was able to secure work as a truck driver after renewing his license, driving a semi to the US and across BC hauling everything from grain to apples. However, after working some six-day, 14-hour shifts, Konopada started experiencing pain in his leg.
“The doctor said I was sitting too much, so he gave me 30 days off,” Konopada says. “I made one more trip hauling beer to Alberta and bringing groceries back to the Okanagan, and then I took the time to heal. It gave me time to reassess and see what other avenues I could pursue.”
Playing the Right Cards
During his time off, Konopada decided to attend a job fair in Vernon. The second table he visited was for VegPro, one of Canada’s largest vegetable producers who run a packaged salad production facility in Coldstream.
“In my resumé, they saw that I did refrigeration and that I had a Class 1 license, and they needed someone to help operate their refrigeration plant as well as haul trailers,” Konopada says. “I had a Jack, Queen, and King in my hand with all the qualifications they needed. It was the right fit, and I was able to start with them as soon as the doctor said I was ready.”
Now serving as VegPro’s senior refrigeration technician, Konopada has taken on more responsibilities at the plant and says he is now using all of his skills.
He is grateful to WorkBC for never giving up on him despite the barriers he faced.
“I have been able to attain a lot of experience since Carmen sent me back to get my Class 1 licence and appreciate her believing and trusting in me,” Konopada says. “Everyone at WorkBC was my biggest supporter, and they helped me get back on my feet to build on my success. They didn’t give up.”
Neither has Konopada. His next goal is to get his Heavy Equipment Operator certificate to run the big backhoes at the plant’s farm.
“I am not afraid to learn,” he smiles.
If you or someone you know is facing a barrier in finding meaningful work, see how WorkBC’s Employment Counselling can help. Learn more by calling WorkBC Vernon at 250-545-2215 or visit us at workbccentre-vernon.ca.