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by Mary Scianna

Technical schools' pivotal role in skilled trades training

Think the skilled trades shortage is a problem now with an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 open manufacturing jobs?

Wait until 2016 when Canada will have 1.3 million skilled jobs sitting vacant and 660,000 unskilled workers, according to figures from Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

The sad dichotomy between the unfilled jobs and the job seekers has not gone unnoticed by the industry.

The most obvious solution to the skilled trades shortage is to introduce more apprenticeship training programs, encourage more manufacturers to embrace them, and establish more partnerships between industry and technical colleges.

Successful apprenticeship and pre-trades programs require the combination of practice (in machine shops) and theory (in the class).

Shop Metalworking Technology Magazine approached several technical colleges across the country to ask about skilled trades training and industry support.

"Without support from industry, our progress [with technical training] is slow. We want to partner with suppliers," says Brian Rignanesi, dean of trades and apprenticeships at New Brunswick Community College, which operates six campuses across the province and offers pre-employment/pre-apprentice, as well as apprenticeship certification programs. "Our approach with suppliers is ‘put your machine in our shop and we'll demo it for your customers.' It's a win/win situation because we get the latest in machine tools on which our students can train and the suppliers can come in with customers to demo machines or help train their reps and their dealers."

At the other side of the country in Alberta is the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) based in Edmonton, AB, one of the largest and arguably best-known technical colleges in the country. Of the estimated 144,000 skilled trades jobs that will need to be filled in Alberta in the next two to three years, NAIT provides training for approximately 70 per cent of those jobs when broken down by occupation, says Malcolm Haynes, acting dean of the School of Trades. He adds that the institution has had good industry support "and we're always willing to look at partnerships. We need to make sure though that we're not completely flooding our students with one product or one manufacturer. We're trying to train students who can walk into any shop and understand different technologies. We provide broad-based training and industry values this."

Robert Chittin, chair of the School of Skilled Trades at St. Clair College, Windsor, ON, echo's Hayne's comments.

"Industry wants students to have exposure to CNC, but all shops will tell you they need students with basic skills and prefer to train them in their shops because each one has unique machining technologies. So basic skills are important as a base for learning."

St. Clair College operates five machine shops equipped with standard and CNC machines and welding equipment. While the college is equipped with modern machine tools including a five axis machine, Chittin says he's working with local industry to get more support.

"We're starting to get better support and building stronger ties with industry. Our CAD/CAM and pre-apprenticeships will be graduating this August and we have a mini job fair. It's like speed dating where students interview potential employers, which are mostly mould and tool shops looking for skilled people."

Richard Pilat is the coordinator for the machining program at Rosemount Technology Centre in Montreal, which offers machine operator, machining techniques, CNC machine tool operation, and welding and fitting programs. He says the college deals with more than 100 companies, manufacturers and industry suppliers "and they're quite helpful in advising us about the technologies we should focus on. We get a lot of feedback from industry. Usually once a year we invite the industry into our college and have dinner with representatives so we can discuss how manufacturing technologies are changing and what we can do to change the training programs to better reflect what is going on in the industry." SMT

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