Students on Manitoulin Island and along Lake Huron’s North Shore looking to learn a skilled trade will be able to kickstart their studies right at home, starting next fall, at the Anishinabek Skills, Innovation and Research Centre.
When complete, the $2-million, 9,000-square-foot facility will offer students introductory learning opportunities in a variety of trades, such as welding, construction, plumbing and electrical techniques.
The initiative is an expansion of Kenjgewin Teg (translated to “A Place of Knowledge” in English), a non-profit educational institute situated on the M’Chigeeng First Nation that started offering secondary and post-secondary educational courses in 1994. It has continued to expand its menu of services to include general interest courses, consultation services, and more.
This new chapter for Kenjgewin Teg stands in stark contrast to the first 17 years of the institution’s life when it was located in a cluster of portable buildings on a small plot of land on the First Nation.
The institute finally moved into a spacious, brand-new facility down the road in 2011. But the extra space it gained was quickly filled up as the institute tried to keep up with demand.
“We barely moved into our current facility and we already had outgrown it,” said Stephanie Roy, Kenjgewin Teg’s executive director, which is part of the reason why the new skilled trades centre is so important.
“It was a long time coming, and there's just so much support, and, I think, for Manitoulin, it's a good thing.”
Of the cost, $1.8 million is being provided by the federal government’s Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, while Kenjgewin Teg will contribute $225,000.
Roy said a facility offering experiential training has always been part of the organization’s vision.
“I think part of what has always been the impetus for us is really looking at how we can support and create an Aboriginal workforce in the North that looks at experiential training, hands-on training and really the specialized skills trades training,” Roy said.
“Our long-term plan has always recognized that we need to look at a proper facility to be able to offer this suite of hands-on skills training for our youth, for anyone on Manitoulin Island.”
In particular, it wants to help prepare Indigenous learners to gain the skills to be able to work anywhere in the country or the world.
Kenjgewin Teg serves a membership of eight First Nation communities: Aundeck Omni Kaning, Constance Lake, M'Chigeeng, Sagamok, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Whitefish River, and Zhiibaahasing.
But its programming is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners — anyone interested in learning there is welcome to enrol.
“We hope that we are the first point of access to give students and adults that taste and that interest for their particular trade and what their aptitude is in,” Roy said.
“We're hoping that they will initially take their first year with us and then possibly either enter into an apprenticeship or actually attend one of the college partners full time.”
Kenjgewin Teg already has long-time partnerships in place with several colleges and universities across Ontario, but it’s working on developing some new ones. For example, North Bay’s Canadore College will help with pre-trades programming.
There will additional opportunities for students to take upgrading in the areas that are prerequisites for getting into the trades.
Roy is in discussions with potential industry partners as well. The Canadian Welders Association has been in contact about partnering on classroom space and supporting certain equipment purchases.
The building itself will feature a large, versatile shop space that can be reconfigured to meet the needs of whatever program is being offered during a particular semester. Classroom labs will be outfitted with the equipment required for a specific trade.
In the welding classroom, for example, eight welding stations are being set up for students to practise their techniques.
Other space will be outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, such as simulations for the heavy equipment training.
“We’re running the whole gamut of training in this facility,” Roy said.
Through the tendering process, Kenjgewin Teg awarded the design contract to Sudbury’s 3rdLine.Studio, formerly Castellan James and Partners Architects, whose landmark projects include Sudbury’s downtown YMCA, the surface dry facility at Vale’s Coleman Mine, and Grace Hartman Amphitheatre.
Laari Construction of Sudbury was awarded the construction tender. Laari specializes in civil, commercial and industrial construction, and has been in business for more than 30 years.
Laari was to break ground on the site, adjacent to the current Kenjgewin Teg building, in August, and construction is estimated to take 10 months. Completion is slated for next summer. Doors open in the fall of 2018.
Initially, Roy anticipates an enrollment of 75 students annually, but “that can double as we progress with our concurrent upgrading strategy in the math and sciences, as well as the cultural learning support for the accredited training aspect.”