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Alberta invests $1 million in Fort McMurray plumbing apprenticeships

Anticipating skills shortages, a new pilot project expands Keyano College’s training programs


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May 8, 2017 by John Bleasby

A $1 million provincial investment in the temporary expansion of a plumbing apprenticeship program at Fort McMurray’s Keyano College is the latest step taken by the Province of Alberta to address the specific needs of Wood Buffalo’s re-building one year after the devastating fires. “We are anticipating a need for residential plumbers in the area as permits go up and the rebuild really gets under way,” Ben Lof, Press Secretary, Advanced Education, told Canadian Contractor.

Minister Marlin Schmidt tries his hand at soldering at Keyano College in Fort McMurray after announcing the Apprentice Plumbing Program (photo courtesy of the Government of Alberta)

“With the Wood Buffalo rebuild expected to span multiple construction seasons, our hope is aspiring tradespeople will take advantage of this program,” said Marlin Schmidt, Minister of Advanced Education in a press release last week. The program begins this fall, and will shorten the eight-week training time frame of full-time classroom and hands-on instruction, to allow second year students to work on-line for the classroom component at their own pace. They can then enroll for the hands-on training in a mobile lab, thus spending less time away from their job sites.

College is located at the heart of the skilled trades need
Keyano College in Fort McMurray offers a wide range of certificates and diploma courses, university transfer, apprenticeships, academic upgrading and, through collaboration with other post-secondary institutions, degree completion options. The college’s comprehensive program offerings include arts, science, business, education, health and wellness, trades, and industrial training. Of specific relevance to the community re-build are the apprenticeships programs in electrical, welding, carpentry, and heavy equipment technician.

The pilot project centred on plumbing is a multi-partner collaboration. Beyond the government funding, Keyano College is providing staff and on-site infrastructure, Northern Lakes College is supplying a mobile training unit, while SAIT and Grande Prairie Regional College are delivering online learning resources and instructional expertise. Participants in the program will have access to more than 20 local plumbing employers to complete the required on-the-job training to progress in their apprenticeship.

Where the million will be spent
The $1 million provincial funding will be allocated in a number of ways, explained Lof.  An initial $300,000 will be spent “planning/setting up/implementing the project, securing online training, beginning plumber apprenticeship training and the research project on this form of blending learning as well as maintaining and transporting the mobile training unit,” Lof told Canadian Contractor. The mobile unit is to be located on Keyano College’s Suncor Energy Industrial Campus and will be outfitted with equipment later this spring.  The self-contained mobile training unit can expand to provide up to 1,500 square feet of teaching space and as many as 10 teaching stations for hands-on instruction.

“Another $450,000 will go to online training/practical training, instructional supplies and equipment, operating expenses related to plumber apprenticeship training and introduction to plumbing courses, research activities as well as maintaining and transporting the training unit,” Lof continued. The remaining $250,000 will meet local training needs related to plumbing or other trades, maintenance and transportation of the training unit, and various wind-up costs.

“In light of the rebuild that is taking place, this is a great opportunity for Fort McMurray residents to gear up their construction skills,” said Tracy Edwards, president and CEO of Keyano College. “We are pleased to be partnering with the government on these projects and look forward to helping students learn a valuable trade.”

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