06/14/2013 06:12 EDT | Updated 08/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Former B.C. sawmill employees learn new skills after devastating explosion

BURNS LAKE, B.C. - Seventeen former employees of a sawmill that blew up in Burns Lake, B.C., have learned some new skills that will help them find work.

The workers from the Babine Forest Products mill are among 21 graduates of a pre-apprenticeship skills program run by the College of New Caledonia and funded by the provincial government.

The 19-week program gave students theoretical and practical experience as millwrights, heavy-duty mechanics and construction work, allowing them to graduate with industry certification in several trades.

Campus director Scott Zayac says the program was created to help former sawmill employees who did not have trades' tickets, and now some of them have found jobs.

Frankie Erickson, who worked in the sawmill for 30 years, says the program helped old-timers like himself earn the qualifications needed to find work in new fields.

The January 2012 explosion, believed to be caused by wood dust, killed two workers, injured 19 others and put about 250 people out of work, but the sawmill is expected to reopen in 2014.