“The trades have to be honoured more… we’re the stepping stone to everything.”
Graham Prokopetz is a highly respected superintendent in the construction industry who has mentored thousands of apprentices all over the world. As a skilled plumber and steamfitter with more than 40 years of experience in the trades, he is a role model and mentor to all journeypersons and apprentices he works with. Graham lives and breathes the trades and the apprenticeship system and has committed much of his life to helping others down that same important road.
Building and working with his hands has been part of Graham’s life since childhood on the farm. He originally wanted to do auto body work, but a friend of his father offered him job as a plumber apprentice to get some work experience. He never looked back, graduating from the Kelsey Institute of Applied Arts and Science with a plumber journeyperson certification in 1981. In his early career, Graham worked for Botting in Saskatchewan, but left in 1985 to go overseas.
From 1985 to 1993, Graham did philanthropic work across the world, drilling water wells and training locals on installation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation projects. He estimates that he’s been to 50 different countries in the world, bringing water to communities and passing on his skills and knowledge.
“I’ve worked in Latin America, I’ve worked in the South Pacific, I worked in Africa… I’ve been all around, as a plumber. Every place I went I was a plumber,” he says, “The trades have given me that option.”
When he returned to Canada in 1993, he was working for Shell in Caroline, Alberta when he ran into Les LaRocque, the then-president of Botting, who he’d met working for Botting in Saskatchewan in the 80s. That chance encounter at a skating rink brought Graham back to Botting, and he has been working for them in Calgary ever since. He began as a journeyperson but quickly moved into supervisory role due to his strong leadership skills. As Graham’s co-workers note, he leads people by showing them what it means to be a good tradesperson. He also received his steamfitter-pipefitter journeyperson certification and continued to pursue further training in numerous specialty areas throughout his career.
Graham was a superintendent with Botting for 25 years, working on many large projects. This year, he accepted a new role at Botting as Field Operations Supervisor. He will be working with new superintendents to ensure they have the necessary skills and tools to excel in their new position. Graham will mentor, transfer knowledge and be their guide as they make the transition to the superintendent role. Although he’d been considering retirement, this new role provides him with the opportunity to, as he puts it, “be everyone’s MacGyver,” and visit jobsites doing what he does best – teaching people.
“I like technology transfer, especially teaching and people,” he says, “Lots of the apprentices that come up underneath me are like my kids. That’s the best thing. It’s an enjoyment to work with these people.”
Graham’s talent and passion for training and mentorship is second to none. His confidence and leadership skills enable him to be an incredible role model for all journeypersons and apprentices on the jobsite. His unique style of engaging and mentoring youth in our community has helped many high school students discover who they can be in the trades and he has mentored 13 students through the high school Registered Apprenticeship Program.
“I’ve probably trained a 1000 people … It’s really nice. I think they’re more excited [about my hall of fame induction] than I am,” Graham says.
For almost 2 decades, Graham has participated in the Alberta Apprenticeship Industry and Training (AIT) Industry Network. He has held positions on the Local Apprenticeship Committees for both Plumbing and Steamfitter-Pipefitter and holds a position on the Plumber Provincial Apprenticeship Committee. He has volunteered endless hours providing knowledge, insight, and invaluable guidance to the AIT Board. He truly believes that trades should be accessible to all apprentices that want to make the trades a career.
Graham advocates strongly for a higher emphasis to be placed on trades in our education system. He wants more people to recognize the value of a career in the trades. He has volunteered his time to speak at events organized by CAREERS: The Next Generation, SAIT and Momentum Trades Training, sharing his experiences with students and graduates to promote the trades.
“The trades have to be honoured more… we’re the stepping stone to everything.” he says, “To keep the economy going, we need tradespeople.”
Graham lives in Calgary with his wife. They enjoy spending time with their 5 sons and their families. Three of their sons have followed their dad into the plumbing trade. In the summer, Graham enjoys touring Alberta on the drag racing circuit.
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