An appeal made five years ago to the asphalt roadbuilding industry to become more active in recruiting young people is reaping results.
The Ontario Asphalt Pavement Council (OAPA) — formerly the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association — has awarded 26 scholarships to 32 college students in the heavy duty equipment technician and heavy duty equipment operator programs under its Roads Scholars Program.
The program was launched in 2013 and the council estimates 30 per cent of the award recipients are now working in construction, although perhaps not all in its sector.
"That is based on what we’re seeing on Facebook, Linkedin, and other social media," says Mike Deckert, vice-president of Flo Components and chair of the council’s plant paving committee.
The 14-member volunteer committee was tasked with creating the program after former association president Murray Ritchie told the board of directors something needed to be done to bring young people into the industry, says Deckert.
"The first question we asked was ‘how are we going to do this?’."
It was eventually decided scholarships should be awarded to students in both the heavy duty technician and heavy duty equipment operator programs because those programs were best suited to meet the industry’s needs.
After research was conducted by each committee member, a list of potential college partners was narrowed down to four: Centennial College in Scarborough, Conestoga College’s Guelph campus, Sir Sandford Fleming in Lindsay and Georgian College in Barrie.
At the end of what turned-out-to-be six months of work, the committee presented its recommendations to the board of directors.
"This is how the program is going to work and the budget we need," Deckert recalls saying.
There wasn’t any hesitation on the board’s part in approving the program’s goals and funding for those scholarships, although that funding has to be approved annually, he says.
Each year eight students from the four participating colleges, half from the technician and half from the operator programs, receive $1,000 scholarships.
"They’re selected, not just on academic standing, but also if they have demonstrated leadership skills. The colleges have also developed their own criteria."
However, the scholarships are one component of the three-point program. As a further inducement to consider a career in the asphalt industry, a select number of students are invited to participate in OAPC’s spring operation seminars. Held just before the paving season starts, the seminars are networking and learning events for its members who are comprised of both companies who lay down pavement and asphalt plant producers.
A $300 registration fee is waived for invited students and other students who are interested in attending are only charged $50. The participants are not necessarily the same people as the scholarship winners, says Deckert.
"They (the seminars) are a good way for students to learn about the industry and talk to potential employers."
The third plank, and one which the college partners were asked to agree to, is a yearly presentation in those college of approximately 45-minutes about the industry and its career opportunities. It is presented by two OAPC members, one from plant paving committee and a board director, says Deckert.
As well, the program has been expanded since its implementation. After it was learned that high percentage of the scholarship winners had found employment in construction, the question posed to the committee was: "How can we expand it?"
The answer is an initiative designed to meet the requirements of OAPC’s second sector —the asphalt plant producers who need trades such as millwrights and welder/fabricators.
Those programs are offered at Canadore College in North Bay and Algonquin College in Ottawa, both of which are now partners. Having them on board broadens the program’s geographic reach and ensures it isn’t just restricted to colleges in southern Ontario, says Deckert.
Another recent development is the creation of a portal on the OAPC’s website where students can post their resumes.
Asked why the plant paving committee members devote so much of their free time to the development of the program, Deckert replies: "They have a commitment to their companies and the industry and are inspired by the need to contribute. The message we want to send (to the students), is the science of the profession. This is a career, not a job."