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Skilled trades shortage revives program (11/03)

By IAN ROSS With a nationwide skilled-trades worker shortage looming, Sault College is re-dedicating itself to meet the growing demand with new programs geared towards guaranteed jobs in the railway industry and apprenticeships.


With a nationwide skilled-trades worker shortage looming, Sault College is re-dedicating itself to meet the growing demand with new programs geared towards guaranteed jobs in the railway industry and apprenticeships.

Mechanical techniques, industrial maintenance students Larry Ash (left) and Ryan Menard work in the college’s machine shop under the guidance of instructor Bob Zuccato.

In virtually every industrial sector, Canada faces a growing labour skills shortage within the next five to 10 years that threatens the competitiveness of industry globally and the standard of living of Canadians.

Sault College is attempting to close the gap between industry needs and workers’ skills with an industry-education partnership through a proposed Railway Training Institute.

Dr. Tim Meyer, Sault College’s president, says indications from a variety of sources, including Human Resources Development Canada published reports, tell of widespread shortages in skilled trades, a fact backed up by local manufacturers.

“It’s more than a need, it’s a desperation right now.”

In rededicating itself to its skilled trades roots, , the college has approached local industry to better understand their needs and are “reformulating” their programs to produce a graduate from a program relevant to specific sectors.

Sault College began as the Ontario Vocational Centre in 1965, one of three in Ontario back then.

The rail industry, Meyer says, has the most mature labour force, faced with many baby boomers retiring, and they have gone to the federal government indicating a need for replacements or face an entire rail network at risk. One area is in signals and communications - a trade Meyer says is very much aligned with Sault College’s electrical/electronics program.

“We’re not adopting a new program, we’re re-invigorating a program that has been an original strength of Sault College,” says Meyer.

Through a proposal to the rail industry’s leadership, the Railway Association of Canada, and a memorandum of understanding with the college, classes for the training institute are expected to begin by September 2004.

Meyer says the college should produce “just-in-time” graduates who should receive guaranteed job offers.

Canadian National devolved training on to Sault College, particularily the signals and communications program.

By turning over that responsibility, CN will be emptying out its Concord, Ont. training facility and transferring equipment to the Sault in anticipation of delivering the program next fall, Meyer says.

More details on the program are expected at a news conference later this fall.

Meyer says the Railway Institute represents a complete relationship with the rail industry and a new trend in the

trades concept of not simply producing a generic graduate, but graduating an industry-specific students ready to

step into a job.

Sault College conservatively anticipates filling 40 seats through a partnership with George Brown College, which will be delivering conductor training for needs specific to Metro Toronto railways.

They anticipate this developing relationship with the railway industry may eventually position them to later receive the locomotive engineer program, considered a six-figure salaried position, as collective agreements allow.

“This represents some of the first inroads that the rail industry has gone external with, with their training needs and gone with a college,” says Meyer.

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology is delivering a similar railway institute covering the Canadian Pacific Railways needs in Western Canada.

Meyer says there remains potential for international work since CN’s interests include acquisitions of railways across North America, which may lead to other opportunities down the road.

By aligning closely with industry for training purposes, it should result in some developmental research by bringing in new technology and new direction for industry and much-welcomed exposure for Sault College.

In the past, the college has worked closely with Algoma Steel, the city’s largest private employer, with whom

they pledged to work together on educational upgrading program through a proposed steel institute program.

Rick McGee, Sault College’s public affairs spokesman, says the steelmaker has been reluctant to divulge its future manpower needs since Algoma is still undergoing downsizing, mainly through attrition.

Another option to address this scenario is through Sault College’s Industry Apprenticeship Trades option certificate program, another program designed to fast-track students into the trades by combining their academic program with apprenticeship opportunities through two eight-month co-op placements in industry.