Trades shortage hurting the North

Local candidates claim their political parties have the necessary skills to help end the labour crisis

JESSICA YOUNG — The Daily Press (Timmins, ON) — Oct. 2, 2008

It’s no secret that Northern Ontario is in dire need of more tradespeople and skills training.

Local educational facilities have responded to the demand by expanding — Université de Hearst and Collège Boréal are currently building new campuses near École secondaire catholique Thériault, and Northern College is also in the planning stage of constructing a new Nor Tech Centre for Trades and Technology.

The Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy announced an $8-million investment to Northern College’s new trades centre this past August.

News of government funding was music to the ears of Northern College’s director of schools of business, engineering, technology and trades Tori Hanson.

Although she’s thrilled that the government has provided some relief, she said the $8 million will not be enough in the long run.

“There’s this huge need,” she said. “The funding we receive has been good but we certainly could do with an acknowledgment for a greater need in funding because of our Northern realities.”

Part of what Hanson means by Northern realities is the region’s geographic restrictions. There’s a large need for skilled tradespeople up the James Bay Coast, she explained, and it’s important to find ways to train people in their home communities.

“It’s very difficult,” Hanson said. “There’s rules around apprenticeship that block access to training. We need a satellite centre in Moosonee to do some of that training.”

Up-to-date equipment is also another area of concern. The Apprenticeship Enhancement Fund which supports the purchase of equipment at colleges has been helping but it’s just not enough to hold up for more than a year, she said.

“Apprentices need to be doing their training on appropriate, up-to-date equipment,” Hanson said. “Funding has to be on a yearly basis and we hope they continue it every year to make those submissions possible.”

The Association of Canadian Community Colleges is challenging Canada’s five main political party leaders to declare their position on providing more funding for colleges and institutes to address the country’s skills crisis.

Green Party candidate Larry Verner said he’d like to see three or four new trade schools open up to provide enough educational facilities in his riding. Cochrane, Kirkland Lake and Timmins are just some of the communities he’d like to see have an additional training facility to teach trades.

Not only does Verner want more schools, he’d also like to see more schools offering more specified programming.

“Schools should be expanding in other areas such as how to work in a water treatment plant and more specific trades involving electronics and computers rather than the traditional trade subjects,” he said. “Schools should be teaching about specific jobs in the North.”

If elected, Verner said he’d work to help reduce the cost of trade education. Additional grants, bursaries and subsidizing a large majority of education is what Verner feels will help alleviate the large amount of student debt many students graduate with.

“A student coming out of a trade school with a $40,000 to $50,000 loan hanging over his or her head is a difficult way to start out your life,” Verner said. “We have to somehow make those repayments a lot easier on the people who are entering the workforce. There has to be some way so that student loans are forgivable.”

Local Liberal candidate Paul Taillefer also believes that skills training is severely lacking. He said it’s important to grab the attention of youngsters at an early age so that they become interested in trades.

Programs such as the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Training Program and co-op diplomas in apprenticeship training programs are helping students understand the options they have within the various trades.

Learning new skills is important for the young and those with experience in the workforce, Taillefer explained. Making sure those who are unemployed gain the skills they need to enter the workforce is an important goal for Taillefer.

“We have to make sure we target the immigration sector because there are a lot of skilled workers there and we have to recognize those skills and entice them up to our areas,” he said. “One of the real challenges that we have here is when something takes a downturn for example, the forestry sector, a lot of skilled workers are in the mining sector or moving away from the area altogether.

“You’re caught having to rehire a whole new group of skilled workers when things start up again.”

Taillefer believes a standardization of training across Canada will help provide mobility for skilled workers and provide more opportunities for people to move up North.

Conservative candidate Bill Greenberg said the shortage of tradespeople in Northern Ontario is being resolved thanks to his party. The Apprenticeship Incentive Grant of $1,000 per year for apprenticeship programs, an apprenticeship job tax credit of $2,000 per apprentice and a $500 deduction for the cost of tools are just a few examples of how the Conservatives are stepping up to the plate and helping out those looking to enter the trades, he said.

“All these programs will help train new tradespeople but we need even more,” he said. “With our apprenticeship incentive grant we will help ease the barriers of getting into school, plus Fednor’s Youth Internship Program is specifically designed to put students in the workplace to keep them in Northern Ontario.

“Taken together, the Conservative government has done more to help grow our Northern Ontario skills workforce.”

NDP incumbent Charlie Angus said his party is also offering incentives for those looking to continue their education. Every student who enters post-secondary education will be given $1,000 to offset their costs. He said tuition rates provide a road block for students when all they want to do is get an education.

Angus said the Liberals and Conservatives have created a free market when it comes to post-secondary education, making it virtually impossible to leave school without being severely in debt.

“We believe education is a resource students, from any age group, should have affordable access to,” he said. “Education now is for life.”

For job training, Angus said there needs to be easier access for employment insurance to help people get back on their feet.

“When a business goes down, there are many people who can’t get employment insurance training benefits, then they end up being in poverty,” he said. “They need to get retrained so they can be part of the workforce again. That piece of the puzzle has been left out by the Liberals and Conservatives.”

For those in the workforce, more incentives and support need to be given to businesses, Angus added.

“We have to make it possible for businesses to train new employees,” he said. “It’s a real cost to any business.

“Our focus has always been to target incentives and support. If you’re a start-up company and want to train employees, that’s where the NDP is keen to put government investment.”

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