Getting creative about college

It is no secret there’s a shortage of skilled workers, not just in Newfoundland and Labrador, but right across Atlantic Canada. There is also a long list of industrial developments underway and just-aboutunderway that needs thousands of people. Where will they all come from?

“Those companies seem to be hiring all the time,” says United Steel Workers staff representative Boyd Bussey. “They always seem to find enough people.” That said, Bussey has his antenna up, alert for signs that any company he deals with is contracting out or bringing in labour from abroad.

“It’s great that all of this development is going on. It provides employment to families, good, steady jobs, that pay higher than most,” he says. “It’s great to see the economy of Newfoundland booming like that … and we need to be able to take care of our own.

“That might mean more training facilities or more use of the College of the North Atlantic – that was created by [Premier Joey] Smallwood many years ago to make sure that Newfoundlanders got consideration for these jobs. I don’t think there’s any job for these companies that a Newfoundlander can’t do.”

ANNE MARIE VAUGHAN is doing her part to make sure Bussey is correct. As president of the College of the North Atlantic, she knows exactly how important the College’s network of 17 campuses (15 on the island of Newfoundland and two in Labrador) are right now.

“It’s a really critical time to be in the college sector,” she says. “Colleges have never been so important, not at any time since the 1960s when the college system first came to Newfoundland. There is industrial growth in the province like we’ve never seen before.” A benefit, perhaps a requirement, of the college system is that it can be flexible and responsive to the needs of industry in a way that universities and other institutions cannot.

Vaughan says she and her colleagues are rising to the challenge, using creativity and careful big-picture planning to give Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the skills that are needed by the labour market.

Having a number of campuses around the province allows for some mobility. By moving existing courses to campuses where they are needed, and developing new ones as required, even short-term and immediate labour needs can be met efficiently.

Vaughan uses the example of the College’s campus in Happy Valley- Goose Bay. The College is preparing to offer four new courses there, which are directly related to skilled worker requirements at Muskrat Falls. But College officials have realized that Nalcor won’t be the only one looking for workers. That’s why carpentry and cook programs will also be launched.

“We know there’s a need for housing,” says Vaughan. “There are infrastructure needs. It’s not just a fly-in, fly-out situation; people want to move in, and have a home.”

Likewise, “the worksite will need cooks. And, as the community attracts more and more workers, there will be a need for cooks, restaurants, all the service industries need people too … The student demand exists. Industry demand exists. We have to make sure it is all matched up.”

In addition to moving new programs to the locations they’re most needed, Vaughan says the College is aggressively tackling its waitlist to get the students who want training ready to work in as timely a manner as possible. A strategic management committee of senior College employees, including the president and the registrar, meet weekly to ensure programs are moved to where there is a waitlist. “We do not have empty seats,” she says.

Perhaps most notably, the College has been getting creative with the way it is delivering new programs. Labrador West (Labrador City and Wabush, close to major mine sites like IOC and Wabush Mines) has a distinct need for heavy equipment operators. But there were a couple of roadblocks to offering the training program at that campus: it’s expensive to bring in the equipment; and those already working or in an apprenticeship are loathe to leave work to head back into the classroom.

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Stephanie Porter
About Stephanie Porter

Stephanie Porter is a freelance writer and editor living in St. John’s. In 2003, she helped launch The Independent, a spirited weekly newspaper distributed across Newfoundland and Labrador, known for its investigative news and features. Stephanie was managing editor of the paper until its untimely demise in 2008. She has also worked as a reporter and writer for Downhome magazine, the Express (also now defunct), The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, picking up Atlantic Journalism Awards for her feature and news writing. Stephanie is delighted to be a regular contributor to Atlantic Business Magazine. Photo Credit: Paul Daly.

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