In normal times, one of Canada’s largest carpenter apprenticeship training centres in Vaughan, Ont. sees hundreds of students pass through its doors for classes ranging from carpentry and floor covering installation to scaffolding and formwork.
But these days the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT) is quiet and largely shuttered because social distancing requirements under the COVID-19 health and safety agenda make it difficult to conduct courses, most of which have a hands-on component.
The administration hasn’t folded its tents, however, and is quickly shifting gears, moving theory courses from in-class settings to online formats.
The “pilot classes” include Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), confined spaces, basics of supervision and its Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) red seal exam preparation course.
“If these courses work out well, then we will certainly look at other courses we can do this with,” says Cristina Selva, executive director of the college.
The idea of going online started with a class on Sketchup Pro, a course on 3-D drawings which was switched from in-class to online on the fly.
“When we realized how seamlessly that transition went, it got us thinking about other courses that might lend themselves to a distanced platform,” she says.
It is good news for instructors at the college who were laid off mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak hit Ontario. The training centre employs up to 25 instructors in peak periods who teach a variety of apprenticeship classes at all levels as well as pre-apprenticeship, health and safety and continuing education night classes.
Selva says hundreds of students were shut out of their courses when the virus ramped up.
We’ll just keep deferring start dates of subsequent apprenticeship and con-ed courses as long as we have to,
— Cristina Selva
College of Carpenters and Allied Trades
“We were getting set to double the cohort sizes for formwork (classes) because the demand was so huge when this happened,” she explains.
The online classes could have a ready market as the increased unemployment rate in construction frees up workers to go back to school.
The centre has kept its three co-ordinators and six administration staff employed. Most days they work from home, Selva notes, adding a few instructors were hired in late April through the help of a federal government aid program.
Selva says while the training centre hopes to eventually shift many continuing education and health and safety courses to online formats because of the outbreak, it will have to take a different approach to practical-based apprenticeship courses.
That likely means a phased-in reopening of those programs.
The new classes, however, could have fewer students to ensure social distancing guidelines are met. The CCAT has traditionally run classes with only 12 to 15 students but Selva says cutting those numbers in half might be necessary.
“Our next proposed start-up date for apprenticeship classes is June 1, but I think that is very optimistic because of the way things are going in Ontario,” she states. “We’ll just keep deferring start dates of subsequent apprenticeship and con-ed courses as long as we have to to keep people safe.”
She believes even in a year the training college will have to proceed “very cautiously.”
“It’s a bit of a challenge trying to provide the services we have provided to the industry, but we are struggling through, just like everybody else,” she says.
The not-for-profit CCAT is mostly financed by training trust fund contributions with additional monies from the province for apprenticeship training.