“I will advocate on your behalf as long as I am your Member of Parliament.”
That from Sault Ste. Marie MP Bryan Hayes, who joined the Sault College Board of Governors at their regular monthly meeting Thursday.
Sault College President Dr. Ron Common pointed out the postsecondary institution’s value to the community and presented Hayes with a list of requests, particularly in regards to a shortage of skilled trades workers in Sault Ste. Marie.
Common urged the Conservative MP to prod his federal government colleagues to assist Sault College by providing federal funding and a strategy to add more skilled trades students to the College and extra space in which to train them.
Common stated “one of the things we would suggest your government consider is reducing wait lists for high-demand college programs…many of our programs are over-subscribed and are constrained only by our physical capacity to be able to expand them.”
Common said Sault College would definitely be interested in benefiting from another round of stimulus funding from Ottawa for new infrastructure dedicated to skilled trades instruction space, but Hayes told reporters after Thursday’s meeting more stimulus funding is not likely to be a part of the federal government’s next budget, expected in March or April.
To attract more people into studying skilled trades, Common said “there’s a need for a whole promotional campaign to enhance perceptions of jobs in skilled trades and technology, and we think it should be a national promotion, a multi-year campaign to promote trades and technology.”
Board member Jim Rennie told Hayes there are 600 trades people and engineers nearing retirement at Essar Steel Algoma, where he serves as Vice President, Human Resources.
“I don’t think the city is going to generate enough people to fill the needs of industries in the city…speaking from an Essar perspective, we have a very hard challenge getting people from Southern Ontario to relocate in the North, we get bypassed.”
“We need to go through Sault College to develop the skills that are needed,” Rennie continued.
“My biggest fear is we’re not in a position to replace at Essar, Tenaris, Flakeboard. This community isn’t producing (skilled trades people) and our ability to recruit from outside this community is limited. We have to rely on foreign-trained workers.”
Rennie emphasized that a local solution needs to be found.
“We need to get the right people around the table,” Rennie stated.
Hayes said he would take all concerns raised at Thursday’s Board meeting and present them to Cabinet, and stated “you’re going to see more of a focus on Northern Ontario by this government.”
He also said it was time for a roundtable discussion to address the skilled trades issue at a local level.
Speaking to SooToday.com after the meeting, Hayes suggested there was a stigma at one time about trades, with people opting for university education instead.
“How do we get rid of that stigma…we need to set up a roundtable.”
“As a government,” Hayes continued, “we do have tax credits for apprenticeship programs, but I think the message has to get out there that there are a lot of jobs available in skilled trades.”
“We need to work collectively, Minister Orazietti and myself and some of our folks need to get together and have a look at this.”
“Roundtable meetings tend to produce pretty good results because they are think tanks. You get people together and you come up with a direction that says ‘the federal government should do this, the province should do that,’ and you come up with a marketing strategy.”
Hayes said he hopes the next federal budget will address concerns regarding the need for more training opportunities for those interested in studying skilled trades.
Sault College’s Dean of Environment, Technology and Business Colin Kirkwood asked Hayes to look into federal government support for the school’s next major project, called IE2 (Institute for Energy and Environment).
Kirkwood said the College envisions a 100,000 square foot building dedicated to IE2, which would involve instruction in all subject areas involving energy and environmental studies, ideally in partnership with private sector companies who would like to take part in the programming by locating at the College itself and have students work in the facility on projects that are of interest to those private sector companies.
Those areas, Kirkwood said “would include power generation and transmission, smart grid, biofuels, biomaterials, environmental impact, forestry management, policy development and law, anything related to energy and environment issues.”
Kirkwood said the IE2 project has now developed into a conceptual plan, the next step being “to gain private sector support and participation.”
“We hope for support from municipal, provincial and federal governments as well,” Kirkwood told Hayes.
Hayes said “we (the federal government) recognize the energy and environment sector. I’m hoping the government will get involved more in education with more than just stimulus funding.”