Two key factors are shaping the outlook for skilled trade professions: an aging workforce and rapidly changing technologies, both of which enhance the prospects for Canadians in related careers, says Alan McClelland, dean of the School of Transportation at Centennial College.
“With baby boomers moving into retirement, we don’t have enough people going into skilled trades,” he says. “We offer programs for becoming maintenance and repair technicians for everything from motorcycles to aircraft.”
As the largest transportation trades training provider in Canada, Centennial College is working closely with industry to identify market needs and opportunities; it also won this year’s College of Distinction award at the Skills Ontario Competition for the second year.
Mr. McClelland believes rapidly changing transportation and aviation technologies make working in the sector very exciting. A growing focus on low-carbon vehicles, for example, means the development of electrical or hybrid drive systems for trucks, buses and cars, and “technicians have to be versatile to work on a variety of systems,” he says.
Trends in aviation include new engine and avionic systems technologies as well as advanced materials like carbon-fibre composites. “At our new $72-million aerospace facility, located in a repurposed, historic De Havilland of Canada building, we are training the next generation of aviation maintenance and aerospace manufacturing professionals,” he says. “Our state-of-the-art equipment includes simulators and a fully equipped hangar with both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft.”
While industry partners are looking for specialized skills unique to their fields, they also place a high value on “soft skills, like communication, teamwork, problem solving and lifelong learning,” he adds.
Students looking to combine industry experience with education can benefit from a range of partnerships, for example with Air Canada and the Toronto Transit Commission, says Mr. McClelland. “Participants of our work-integrated learning program with Air Canada complete 15 months of on-the-job training in Air Canada shops after their first year of the aviation technician program. They then complete the second year at the college and work for Air Canada after graduation.”
A specialized program for bus technicians, delivered with the Toronto Transit Commission, also includes workplace learning. “This combines the best of both worlds,” says Mr. McClelland. He also notes that applicants can enter Centennial College’s full-time skilled trades programs without having an apprenticeship with an employer lined up.
Opportunities in skilled trades are not limited to the shop floor, says Mr. McClelland, for whom becoming a technician was the start of an exciting career. After a career that has taken him across Canada, the U.S., the South Pacific, China and Japan, he returned to Centennial College with significant industry and training experience.
“When someone obtains a technician licence, he or she has access to many different aspects of the industry, from the shop floor and sales to management and supervisory positions,” he says. “Our graduates may end up owning their own businesses or design training systems.”
Mr. McClelland sees a bright future for skilled trades, where people earn a good hourly wage and don’t have to worry about their job being outsourced to another country. “When a vehicle needs maintenance or repairs, someone has to be there for that,” he says.
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