Province announces $1.8 million for North Perth Technologies and Skills Learning Hub

NORTH PERTH – An announcement on April 19 of over $1.8 million in funding headed to North Perth from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Development’s Skills and Development Fund will provide new possibilities for the region.

“The skills development fund supports organizations and municipalities working on innovative solutions to train and retrain workers,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece. “I’ve heard many times from organizations across the riding, ‘we have jobs, and we can’t fill them.’ We have workers who want to work, people who want to stay in our communities and others who might want to move here but don’t have the opportunity to pick up the skills employers are looking for.”

There were two funding investments announced. The first was a contribution of $92,464 to the Technical Training Group (TTG).

“They are already doing so much to promote the skilled trades,” said Pettapiece. “They build partnerships and work with youth, so I want to thank them and everyone who partners with them, including the Avon Maitland District School Board … The funds will train ten youths to find local hands-on welding and metal fabrication trades. The program is designed to help them attain full-time jobs and apprenticeship opportunities in manufacturing within 25 weeks.”

The second announcement was $1.8 million of funding to support the creation of a North Perth Technologies and Skills Learning Hub.

Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece announced $1.8 million in funding for North Perth Technologies and Skills Learning Hub. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

“Currently, I understand that many residents must travel over 50 km to access the training they need,” he said. “That distance is a barrier to those without a vehicle, anyone in winter weather and those who are disabled.”

Pettapiece said the hub would make the area more competitive, enhancing employers’ and individuals’ access to trades, tools, and education.

“It’s not every day in the term of a mayor that an announcement gets made that has the potential to influence generations and enhance the prosperity of the whole region,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg. “Roads, of course, are a big deal. So are drains. We deal with lots of them in North Perth, but this is, for sure, the impact is bigger. There is a particular pride in being here today to see this project, a big project with loads of potential community benefits realized and announced.”

Early in his term, North Perth businesses and industries raised concerns about upskilling their workers and ensuring that learning opportunities be offered without the further disruption of people having to leave the community.

“I heard the concern about the youth drain in our community and others near us,” he said. “One of those good, bad problems to have, actually. Since, of course, we want our youth to go away to higher education opportunities, but we also want them to come back.”

“It’s not every day in the term of a mayor that an announcement gets made that has the potential to influence generations and enhance the prosperity of the whole region,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

Kasenberg pondered what could be done to create what he began calling “the third way.”

“A way to provide adult education that didn’t mean that we located a university here or a college here since those ambitions are quite unlikely in my lifetime,” he said.

He bounced ideas around with North Perth CAO Kriss Snell and, early in the planning, met the Education and Training Advisor at Contact North, Jeff Scholl. The latter was already working on providing paths for adult students in the area.

The pandemic intervened and stole focus from planning, but work continued when possible.

“We created a compelling and ambitious story, but we needed funding,” said Kasenberg. “I had the good fortune of being introduced to a coach in this field and a consultant to work with us. We worked to create a solid vision of what the North Perth Technologies and Skills Learning Hub (can be) with contributions by many, including a few learning experts who owed me favours, Contact North, TTG, and Partners in Employment, and we have secured this important new hub.”

Kasenberg thanked Pettapiece for solid advocacy at the provincial level and North Perth council’s support for the project locally.

“I have to admit, this is the beginning of a new model for delivering learning and job skilling relevant to rural and wise communities like ours,” he said. “I am convinced that this will grow.”

The municipality will create physical classroom space in the Elma Memorial Community Centre (EMCC), and Kasenberg said they expect to see some classroom learning beginning as early as June.

“A significant part of our proposal was to include notions around learning labs in the community,” he said. “We recognize that we have manufacturers and other employers who can provide space, tools and facilities for project likeness. Many of them have expressed support and interest in doing so.”

Discussions have been ongoing exploring which trades should be offered through the hub.

“I know we’ll be working closely with TTG regarding their catalogue and capabilities,” said Kasenberg. “We know that there are many opportunities here locally.”

Off the top of his head, he mentioned welding, carpentry, plumbing, electrical and metal fabrication.

“I think those are reasonable trades to expect, but I also want to assert that a big part of doing this goes beyond the trades,” said Kasenberg. “This learning hub speaks to the trades plus. That’s a big part of the vision. We can provide access to university and college courses through the instrumentality of Contact North.”

Pettapiece returned the focus to promoting the skilled trades.

“If you want to go to university, that’s great, this isn’t to stop you from going to university, but there are really good-paying jobs in the trades,” he said.

Kasenberg agreed and said the hub would create the opportunity for those in the trades to become advocates and ambassadors for the trades in our grade schools.

“I think that’s sort of part of the vision of the centre, to be that sort of harmonious ecosystem that supports the range of trades opportunities that are available and engages youth younger than has historically been the case,” he said.

“And we don’t want to forget the ladies in the trades,” said Pettapiece. “More women are taking the trades than ever before. A few years ago in Stratford at the Rotary Complex, there was an information meeting for women and young girls. It was full, and they had several ladies in the trades there, and it was inspiring. Girls asked a lot of questions as to what they could do. You don’t have to be a big strong person to be in the trades. It’s for everyone, and I think we want to encourage all genders to get involved.”

Scholl said that he’s learned working online is that you can’t discount the benefits people get from physically being in a classroom together.

“It doesn’t have to be all the time, but the ability to sit down with your peers and talk face-to-face. We’ve noticed the last couple of years how much of a difference it is when we’ve lost that ability,” he said. “So being able to bring that ability to a place like Atwood, to bring people in from different industries to learn, not just trade skills, but soft skills, … it does make a difference when you get people in the same room together.”

Carrie Stuart, director of recruitment and partnerships for Contact North’s southwest region, said Kasenberg’s vision of making it the most technically advanced centre possible is vital for North Perth.

“So we are excited that we can help support this, and we can help make sure that those underserved rural residents here can get access to all the training they need to be successful,” she said.

According to Scholl, Contact North will also continue to operate out of the Village Table building in Listowel.

“That’s where we are proctoring exams and supporting purely online students, whereas this will be much more focused on people in the community learning together, so that is going to be a big difference,” he said.

There will be some crossover in the support Contact North offers when helping to find courses for the hub.

“I’m excited about this, and I think you will see some cool stuff come out of it just because we can customize it to the community,” said Education and Training Advisor at Contact North, Jeff Scholl. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

“The real difference is we’re just college and universities for the most part – they might take a course from Ryerson or Western or Fanshawe and include it all into the same package, depending on the skills for that particular cohort, so that’s where this is unique,” said Scholl. “I’m excited about this, and I think you will see some cool stuff come out of it just because we can customize it to the community.”

Kasenberg said the word he chose to describe his feelings in the media release about the funding announcement was “ecstatic.”

“This is a dream fulfilled,” he said. “We put in a desirable proposal, which won the government’s attention. Now the scramble, of course, is to get it all rolling. So we are gearing up. We have been waiting on this announcement so we can move certain things forward in the public domain.”

Soon they want to have construction happening at EMCC.

“At this point, the thinking is that we will equip the back wall of the big hall to create an area about a third of the total capacity of the big hall that has AV equipment, technology, and so forth supporting learning,” said Kasenberg.

The challenge is that they don’t want to interfere with the total capacity of the hall for big community events.

“We expect that we will have to install one of those foldable walls,” he said. “That’s a possibility we are working towards right now. That will allow us to have easy tear down for the classroom so that big community events can continue to happen in that space without significant compromise.”

A Request For Proposals from AV suppliers with guidance that North Perth wants to build a technologically advanced classroom in Atwood has been released.

“This play is not a capital play,” said Kasenberg. “The province didn’t say go build a new wing on EMCC. This play is about achieving results for students, and any capital stuff is incidental and generally focused on equipment acquisition more than building bricks and mortar. At this point, with the model we have proposed, bricks and mortar are not necessarily the magic that is needed.”

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