by Brad Dixon
When Michael Stevenson, a high school technology teacher with the Niagara Catholic District School Board, approached the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy about the Niagara Launch Centre – Powered by Niagara Catholic District School Board, a new program being offered in Welland, they knew it was an initiative they wanted to be a part of.
“It was an amazing opportunity to reach out to high school students who want to kickstart a career in the trades and help them see the goals they can accomplish in an industry that usually doesn’t get nearly enough attention,” said Carol Wayland, who owns the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy with her husband Carl.
That opportunity is a new centralized program for high school students to get hands-on experience in the skilled trades and explore viable career and apprenticeship options. After being in the works for 4 years, Stevenson was excited to introduce this as a first in not only Niagara, but Ontario.
How the program operates:
In its inaugural year, the program is paired with a co-op credit course, allowing students to learn specific skill sets in a fully-equipped classroom located in the back of the former Target location at the Seaway Mall while also working with local employers for full-day, real world experience.
The classroom features stations, to which the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy donated a pipe threader, for students to gain hands-on knowledge in transportation, construction, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, woodworking, manufacturing, and machining, with a robotics program being introduced in the future.
Over the years, Carol and Carl have noticed that students often don’t know where to begin when considering a career in the trades. So, when the Niagara Launch Centre approached them for a partnership, they jumped at being involved in the first program of its kind, showing students what working in the trades is all about, giving them a taste of all aspects of different career options.
There are currently five NCDSB high schools feeding into the program, and Stevenson has his eyes set on giving this opportunity to more students as the program is developed.
“With our environment here, we are providing very open concept teaching,” said Stevenson. “Students get to experience all different sectors that they haven’t had exposure to before.”
“In our first semester, we had about 90 students, and that number grew to 120 students this semester,” said Stevenson. “Moving forward, we are hoping to maintain a program of 100 to 120 students a term.”
Stories of student success
Two of the program’s first students, Jacob Broughton and Eric Goss, have greatly benefitted from the program and its partnership with the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy already. Goss, who was completing a co-op and is now apprenticing at Fretz Heating & Plumbing, was told about the Niagara Skilled Trades' Gas Technician night course by his employer. He told Broughton, who was completing his co-op and is now apprenticing at Enviro-Niagara, and the two approached Stevenson to talk about options to complete the course while still in high school.
After some discussion, night school didn't seem to be a possibility for the students, but Stevenson recognized the opportunity for Goss and Broughton to complete their gas technician ticket. So, Stevenson worked with the school board to come up with a specialized program to help them complete all of their required high school credits needed to graduate so they could enroll full-time into the Niagara Skilled Trades’ Gas Technician 3 program in March.
“These are the first students in the province to graduate high school with a gas technician license,” said Stevenson. “The Niagara Skilled Trades Academy is partnering with us to help us write the curriculum and set up what they need to learn to be prepared to do complete their G3 license.”
“I was really nervous going in,” said Goss. “But it was a new concept for everyone, so we went with the flow, built from ground zero. Chris [Stankowski] is a great teacher.”
Stankowski went above his normal classroom teachings with Broughton, to help him prepare for the regional Technology Skills Competition, in which he came first. He then moved onto the Ontario Skills Competition, and won gold.
“Learning in the shop with Mr. Stevenson, plus my experience in my co-op and the help from Chris, really helped me succeed,” said Broughton.
Creation of the Niagara Launch Centre
After seeing the success and sense of accomplishment of Broughton and Goss, the Waylands were motivated to find a way to contribute even more to the Niagara Launch Centre.
“We saw the opportunity and decided to offer a scholarship to help a student pursue a career in the trades and get rewarded for their hard work in high school,” said Wayland. “A gas license is a great stepping stone to many apprenticeships and trades careers.”
The Niagara Skilled Trades Academy is a full scholarship for their G3 program and will be offered to one Niagara Launch Centre student each year.
“Our goal is to show students that a career in the skilled trades is reachable,” said Brad Dixon, Manager of Student Services at the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy. “We are here to give them the information and education they need to pursue a career in the skilled trades that might feel daunting.”
When it comes to success in the trades, Goss and Broughton, “highly recommend it.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity that most high school students don’t know about,” said Broughton.
“People want kids who work hard,” said Goss. “Listen to your teachers, they know what they’re talking about.”
The Waylands, Dixon, and the rest of the Niagara Skilled Trades team couldn’t agree more.
“There is nothing more rewarding than watching students come out of our program and succeed in a career they love. Our partnership with the Niagara Launch Centre is the first step in helping students explore their interests and gain the knowledge they need for the career they want.”
For more information about the Niagara Skilled Trades Academy or their partnership with the Niagara Launch Centre, contact us and check out our upcoming course dates.