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New concept in teaching trades coming to Manitoulin

Kenjgewin Teg's new trades building under construction, preparing to offer welding and other trade programs

An ambitious plan to expand trades training, construct a new training building and incorporate traditional teachings is coming to fruition at a training institute on Manitoulin Island.

Kenjgewin Teg, a training institute located on the M'Chigeeng First Nation, is looking a lot bigger these days with the construction of a long-awaited trades building, which is being touted as the new home of a rotating suite of programs and soon-to-be hub for other programs that are currently only offered in southern Ontario.

The new building is also coming at a time when Kenjgewin Teg is taking applications for two new programs: trades fundamentals and welding techniques.

“We looked at trades programs we could offer and we had more than 100 to choose from, but decided on welding techniques because there is a high demand and to offer a trades fundamentals to help students decide on a trade if they are undecided,” said Dave Hall, trades and skills manager.

“The welding is proving popular. We have 10 spots officially, but we don't want to turn anyone away, so if we get 12, or even 15, we will make it work.”

The programs are being offered in partnership with Canadore College in North Bay.

The programs are open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Hall said offering these programs is something of an experiment for the institute. Kenjgewin Teg came up with trades fundamentals for both the students and institution to see which trades people are interested in now. The one-year program will give students a taste of many trades, including carpentry and welding. At the end, students can decide if trades are for them, which ones they are most interested in, and continue on in a specialty program.

Welding foundations is a one-year program that will teach multiple methods, including flux cored arc, gas tungsten arc, brazing and cutting, incorporating both theory and practical. The program also includes elective courses in either Ojibwe language, or an on-the-land component.

Kenjgewin Teg also offers continuing education for those students needing extra credits to complete high school to earn diplomas to qualify to enter its programs.

After that, Hall said students can apprentice, or go on to another college program to continue their studies.

A new component with both these programs will be teaching traditional Indigenous values.

“We are going to have two Elders on staff teach students about traditional values; like when they work with wood, it used to be a living tree and respect that, and so on,” Hall said. “It's a new concept for us to include this. We do perform and honour Indigenous traditions in the building, but not part of a course.”

The institute is also expanding how it offers traditional teachings, with the construction of a sweat lodge and traditional teaching lodge, all located on campus and built according to centuries-old building techniques.

“They are both beautiful structures. The teaching lodge alone was made with birch bark panels hand-sewn together,” Hall said. “The sweat lodge was a challenge to get up, but once we had it up, it was amazing.”

To offer welding and other trades, Kenjgewin Teg has been working on building its own trade building for the past year and a half. The 9,500-square-foot building is being constructed now and includes individual bays for classes, which can be outfitted to suit any trade offered. It also incorporates traditional elements, including seven pillars to honour the Seven Grandfather teachings.

It is slated to be finished by Oct. 18, in time for the first practical classes.

“We are a little behind on schedule; it will be tight, but we are confident,” Hall said. “We have to put in panelling, finish office spaces and electrical, but it's coming together fast.”

There are plans in the works to make the institute a training hub for other trades and programs. Hall said the institute is in talks to offer a water treatment program that is currently only available in southern Ontario, with Walkerton being the closest location. This will allow students in the North to stay closer to home, as well as attract students north.

“Interest in certain trades comes and goes, so we are starting with these for now, and we designed this building and programming to accommodate that,” Hall explained.

“It's also to help students living in this community, going to our school, to ease into the workforce and a career without having to leave home, go to a program for a few months, and find out it's not for them, and be stuck.

“This way, they can work on their skills closer to home.”

The institute will prepare students for having to become part of a mobile workforce.

“There is only so many trades, construction, and welding jobs on the island," Hall said. "We are preparing them for the inevitability of leaving to pursue a career, but at the same time support the community."