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Concrete | Skills Training

February 15, 2006

Apprenticeships

Industry group bets on scholarship

Financial aid may help teens choose

OTTAWA

Concerned about an impending shortage of skilled labour, a construction industry committee is investing money in a high school scholarship program which sends high school students to an Ottawa technical college.

Guy Whissel, a local homebuilder and committee chair, said a fundraising breakfast that yielded $150,000 from industry members kicked off the fund last year. Now, with matching funds from the provincial government, $300,000 is available to assist students through bursaries and/or loans.

The committee works closely with La Cité Collegiale, a French-language technical college, and the local separate school board.

Whissel, a Cité Collegiale graduate himself, said through the scholarship opportunity they hope to expose high school students to the possibility of careers in construction, and help them along the way to those careers.

Whissel is founder and president of Longwood Building Corporation, a homebuilder that erects about 75 houses a year. He has served for five years on Cité Collegiale’s board of governors, and now is a member of the college’s foundation organization.

He worries that “within the next five years, 40 per cent or so of our workforce is going to be retiring, and that’s a real problem.

“The country is expanding and there is a need for housing, and if we don’t have the tools at hand to provide it, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

The college, he said, is putting more emphasis on construction-related programs like civil engineering technology, architectural technology, estimating, and others. It has a fast-track path that can expose students to many skilled trades — millwork, framing and bricklaying. “All sorts of stuff is being put together.”

At the centre of the college’s activities is an on-campus training facility built with provincial funding. There is also a fast-track program that can provide industry employers with workers who have a solid introduction to their chosen trades. Employers, said Whissel, are taking advantage of it.

“We had one company not too long ago that wanted people with a specialization in smart wiring for housing. They said they would not only pay part of the tuition fees, but would hire the graduates.

“We had 10 students who took the fast-track course and once they graduated they were all employed by that company, and, to this day, they still are.”

Whissel said his committee is finding there are many young people who want to get into a college program but are having difficulties. “So our intent is to offer choices to kids at the high school level, and help them recognize that the construction industry can be a very smart career choice. It recent years, everybody is thinking about university, but not everyone wants to do that.

“Years ago, we had technical schools and they were all closed down. We’re all recognizing today that was a mistake, so they need to be put back together, and that is exactly what is being done at La Cité Collegiale.”

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