Thunder Bay, Ont. — An announcement by the Ontario government this week promises an initial investment of $224 million plus an additional $75 million spread over the next three years to build, upgrade and support the operations and programming at new and existing training centres.
The Skills Development Fund aims to help the centres train workers for in-demand trades careers to alleviate the province’s labour shortage but excludes Ontario colleges, including Confederation College. Kathleen Lynch, president of Confederation College, says it’s disappointing for their students, the college and employers in the community.
“Colleges provide many of the best opportunities to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades and should have been a major part of this announcement,” she said in a statement to The Chronicle-Journal.
Colleges play a critical role in skills training with a delivery of more than 80 per cent of the in-class portion of apprenticeship training.
John Kantola, the college’s dean of apprenticeship and special projects, says they know that the government is supporting the private sector.
“And that’s fine, but we just want to be part of it,” he said. “We want to see fair equity in terms of the college being able to receive proper funding as a privatized area . . . in skilled trades training. We’ve been doing it for over 50 years. The college system was built around skilled trades training.”
Kantola pointed out that the college has mechanisms in place to handle diverse learners and does well with their cohort, whereas other training organizations are not set up for this.
“We have support systems in place where it’s all about success and making sure that the student can continue on,” he said.
Kantola emphasized how grateful the college is for all the financial support from the government that they have received, but they don’t want to be left out of important funding initiatives like this one, especially with the current workforce shortage of skilled tradespeople and the college’s capacity to train them.
He says in addition to the high inflation rates and rising consumable, equipment and lab costs, which he called “enormous” to train students, the 70-year-old Dorion trades building on the campus is deteriorating and no longer complies with environmental standards.
“We’ve had hundreds of apprentices go through here and successfully become journey people,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that the government realizes that we’re now at a juncture and really need a new training centre that will take us into the next decade of highly skilled, high-end technology-type training.”
The college has many partnerships and training delivery agents for apprenticing people in the workforce and offers them an opportunity to achieve their Certificate of Qualification. Such qualification will enable them to work provincially along with providing opportunities for many other employee benefits and wage increases.
Kantola says the college is “topping every seat” in every trades program that they offer and are doing exceptionally well with enrolment compared to previous years, which exemplifies the need for continued government support.
Meanwhile, applications for the Skills Development Fund capital stream are expected to open in late spring. Eligible applicants, which include businesses, industry associations, Indigenous centres and unions, can receive funding for the construction of new training centres or facility renovations, repairs, retrofits, expansions, and conversions to existing facilities into training centres with state-of-the-art design and technology.