By Glenda McCarthy
College of the North Atlantic is finding innovative ways to deliver programs so it can meet industry demands for a skilled workforce and also ensure that the best interests of students and employers are addressed.
A 2011 labour market survey showed that approximately 42 per cent of the heavy duty equipment technicians (HDET) employed in Labrador West were apprentices and that more than 18 per cent of existing positions remained unfilled. To help alleviate this situation, CNA campuses in Bay St. George and Labrador West, in cooperation with industry, launched a pilot program in 2012 to deliver a new type of blended apprenticeship training.
In the new model, HDET apprentices from Labrador West remained in their community to complete all classroom studies and a portion of their practical training under the direct supervision of an HDET program instructor. The key, however, was that the instructor was Bay St. George campus in Stephenville Crossing, some 1,600 kilometres away.
Apprentices at both campuses, and their instructor, were brought together via a state-of-the-art blended learning environment which included two-way video conferencing, use of an interactive SMART Board, a high resolution document/imaging camera, as well as the learning management system Desire2Learn, which housed course notes and materials to ensure apprentices could access them on-demand. Using a similar model, CNA has been offering elements of the heavy equipment operator program virtually between Bay St. George and St. Anthony as well.
Now, the college has expanded further on collaboration opportunities between high population areas to those in rural areas by splitting the delivery of the machinist program between the Prince Philip Drive (St. John’s) and Placentia campuses, forming another urban-rural campus partnership.
Due to the high demand for machinists in the workforce, CNA elected to revive the machinist program, which had been removed from Placentia and Baie Verte campuses. According to Darrell Clarke, campus administrator in Placentia, the dual-site delivery model is a more attractive option for students.
“The delivery of the machinist program between St. John’s and Placentia campus is an example of how the college is changing its delivery of programs to meet the industrial and demographic needs of the province, while maintaining programs and infrastructure in the rural campuses,” says Clarke.
“This dual-site delivery model shows how rural parts of the province can support urban centres without the need to move programs in their entirety to a new location.”
The theory component of the machinist program, as well as some practical shop work, is delivered at PPD campus and the specialized hands-on practical work is done at the shops in Placentia. Bussing to and from Placentia for the practical portion of the program is provided at no cost to the students.
“There is a huge demand for machinists in the province and throughout the country, and I can’t think of a better place to get hands-on training than in the specialized shops located at our Placentia campus,” says Ken Moakler, Machinist entry-level instructor.
By moving the bulk of the program to the college’s PPD campus, an area with a greater population base, more students have chosen machinist as a career.
“The first time we offered the program through dual-campus, we had a full class and around 80 per cent of those graduated with a certificate. Over half of those are working in the trade in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is great because they didn’t have to go away, and our international student from China has returned home and is working in that country.”
Moakler says job prospects are great but not many people understand exactly what a machinist is, although every industry depends on them.
“A machinist is a person who makes parts out of steel, wood, plastics, etc. Without machinists you wouldn’t have anyone working. We make parts for planes, cars, boats. You wouldn’t have a cell phone without the machinists because we make the molds. You wouldn’t have tools to use because we make the tools.”
Jason Dunn of Halifax, Nova Scotia is currently enrolled in the program. His decision to become a machinist was influenced by the hands-on nature of the trade.
“One of the reasons I came to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia is because the school is well known, and more well-known than other schools that do the program.”
He feels the instructors are knowledgeable and the hands-on components really appeals to him.
“I’m a very hands-on person and when it comes to tools and machinery I’m completely fascinated with it. I love making things,” Dunn says. “I have an automotive background so the idea of making parts for cars motivated me to actually learn how everything works. I’m into taking things apart and finding solutions and trying to figure out how I would make something work. Doing this (Machinist program) allows me to see what the parts are, how they are made, and in the end it allows me to make them myself.”