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Enrolment up at Skilled Trades College due to COVID-19 pandemic

Angela Gismondi
Enrolment up at Skilled Trades College due to COVID-19 pandemic
Skilled Trades College of Canada in Vaughan, Ont. has seen an increase in enrolment from individuals who worked in the airline, restaurant and hospitality sectors who are now looking to retrain and begin a new career in the trades. Those sectors have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and provincial shutdowns.

There has been more interest in the Skilled Trades College (STC) of Canada over the past year as individuals from sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic are looking to retrain.

“We’ve got a lot of attention since September,” said Mike Di Donato, director of the STC, adding the college currently has individuals from the restaurant, airline and hospitality industry training at the facility.

These sectors have been significantly impacted by provincial lockdowns and it’s uncertain when they will reopen and at what capacity, Di Donato pointed out.

“People who were in these industries which are struggling are looking to retrain,” said Di Donato. “One of the things that has been constantly in the news is that construction never closed…and there is definitely a demand for it, so people are seeing that and looking to get into the trades.”

The private career college, located in Vaughan, Ont., has been around since 2007. It is registered with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and recently moved to a larger facility in September tripling its training space to accommodate the growing demand.

“We started out with electrical training and expanded to include other programs since then,” said Di Donato. “We’re a Ministry of Labour approved Working at Heights provider and do safety training for the construction industry as well.”

Like many other businesses, the college was forced to shut down last March due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t pivot to online learning because, quite frankly, you can’t learn a trade online,” Di Donato noted. “Our message is if we close down for whatever reason we will restart when we are allowed to open up again.”

In June, they were given the go ahead to reopen. In response to the pandemic, they have put a number of health and safety measures in place and are providing more classes with less students per class.

“Since June there has been a steady increase in numbers,” said Di Donato. “We’re open for in person training but with limitations. There are limited classroom sizes, we’ve got to maintain physical distancing in the classroom, temperature checks and we have ramped up our cleaning efforts, sanitizing and disinfecting. It’s definitely been a challenge.”

The college currently provides three programs: an electrical pre-apprenticeship program, a plumbing program and its newest program introduction to home renovation.

Participants can be job ready in 12 weeks. Eighty-five per cent of graduates find work upon graduation, Di Donato noted.

“The goal of our program is to make them job ready so when they go apply to a contractor and start their apprenticeship, they bring skills to the table, they’re not just showing up completely green,” Di Donato explained. “If you look at it from a contractors perspective, if you have a couple of people looking for a job, one guy’s is completely green and never tried a trade and the other one is our graduates who has tried the trade.

“They paid for training, they have all the tools, safety certifications and they have some hands on skills. It’s a no brainer who you are going to pick.”

The programs are geared to help students succeed.

“Our goal here with students, isn’t to break their backs with quizzes and tests and assignments,” said Di Donato. “We are here to motivate them and build their confidence, so ultimately they don’t just finish the program and start a job and quit. We want them to start their apprenticeship and continue with the apprenticeship and get their license eventually.”

The college also offers a contractor program to connect contractors with workers.   

“If they are looking to hire new workers or having a challenge finding a good fit for their organization, they can come to us and be connected with our top graduates,” said Di Donato. “One of the reasons we have grown consistently is that we put extra effort into linking our graduates with job opportunities.  Building a great network of contractors has been key in what we do.”

Over the past five years, the college has focused on attracting more women to careers in the trades. Females make up about 10 per cent of the student base.

“We have hired female instructors and management, with the hope of making potential students comfortable making this a career choice,” said Di Donato. “We also developed a female mentorship program where current female students can be connected with our past female graduates to get advice on working in construction.”

Digital tours of the Vaughan campus are now available.

For more information visit Skilled Trades College | Apprenticeship Trade School

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