High school students get hands-on experience in skilled trades
May 16, 2013

Connor Finley of Penetanguishene Secondary School inspects a plumbing joint that he was working on during the Skilled Trades Expo at the Midland Campus of Georgian College

Connor Finley of Penetanguishene Secondary School inspects a plumbing joint that he was working on during the Skilled Trades Expo at the Midland Campus of Georgian College.

Computers can do a lot but they can’t replace the expertise of an experienced human being.

That’s just one lesson that high school students learned during the Skilled Trades Expo at the Robbert Hartog Midland Campus on May 15 and 16.

Rob Davidson, co-ordinator of the Marine Engine Mechanic program showed a group of students how to use computerized diagnostic equipment to troubleshoot a huge inboard, four-stroke marine engine. The computer spit out all kinds of information on RPMs, voltage, fuel use and more.

“But this is only a guide. The whole process still needs a skilled and trained technician to interpret the results and get the job done,” Davidson said. “If you’re interested in this as a career, that person could be you.”

The participants then had a chance to test the engines themselves, with Davidson’s help.

They were among 400 students from 32 high schools across Simcoe and Muskoka attending in the third annual Skilled Trades Expo. Each student picked two interactive workshops. They worked in teams and, under the guidance of Georgian College instructors, solved assigned problems related to each skilled trade they chose.

John Findlay of Elmvale District High School took part in an electrical workshop, followed by another on solar power. The first gave him hands-on experience testing and building electrical circuits.

“Being here today will really help me figure out what I want to do when I finish high school,” he said. “I really liked this electrical work that I’ve been learning here.”

Workshops covered a wide range of the trades education offered at the Midland Campus. They ranged from woodworking and welding to small engines, power engineering, gas fitting and precision machining.

The event is aimed at encouraging high school students to pursue a postsecondary education in the high-demand skilled trades programs taught at the Midland Campus.

The expo comes at a crucial time for the Ontario and Canadian economies. Both the federal and Ontario governments are currently focusing on skilled trades – and on the troubling gap between vacant jobs and qualified people to fill them.

Adam Zubczuk, an industrial electrician who teaches in the electrical program, told the participants that “there will always be a job for qualified trades – people always need plumbing and electrical work done, to name just a couple of trades.”

“The courses that you do here are great for hands-on learners. It’s a great way to learn. And, if you are able to arrange an apprenticeship, you will be able to learn as you learn, both at Georgian College and as you work for your employer,” he said.

Government estimates suggest that more than 260,000 job vacancies currently exist without qualified Canadian workers to fill them. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports that businesses facing labour shortages will need six times as many college graduates as university graduates in the future.

The skilled trades centre at the Midland Campus offers 39,000 square feet of dedicated shop space, giving many opportunities for hands-on learning experience in a variety of skilled trades. These include plumbing, small engines, welding, marine engines, electrical, solar, carpentry, gas fitting, power engineering and heating, refrigeration and air conditioning.

The Midland Campus is also home to the Victor and Hazel Carpenter Boating Centre of Excellence, providing premier education for Ontario’s boating industry. Selected skills education is also offered in state-of-the-art facilities at the Barrie and Owen Sound campuses.