A new college in Sudbury, Ont. is hoping to provide hands-on training programs to effectively prepare individuals for careers in construction and trucking while addressing the skills gap and labour shortage in northern Ontario.
Northern Construction Academy (NCA), a private career college under the Private Career Colleges Act, provides heavy equipment and transport truck training to prep individuals for employment as a heavy equipment operator and/or professional AZ or DZ driver. The training takes place at the headquarters of Pioneer Construction and Fisher Wavy.
“It was started with a need for good people,” said Dean Derro, general manager of NCA. “The construction and transportation industries need more skilled workers.
“The first priority is to create a safer workplace for the construction and transportation industries, especially on the jobsites and on our roads and highways. The second priority of why we did this is trying to assist with growing the talent pool in the construction and transportation industries.”
With baby boomers retiring the talent pool lacks depth, Derro added.
“We’re focusing on the north,” said Derro, who worked in southern Ontario for 17 years, moving home to Sudbury nine years ago. “I really learned that the further north in Ontario you go, the shallower the talent pool gets and that’s simply because of population. As you drop in population it’s harder to find skilled people.
“There are a lot of contractors up here that just really have a hard time finding people.”
In addition to the trucking training, NCA offers an eight-week, 250-hour heavy equipment program.
“We hit on the main pieces of construction equipment: loader, backhoe dozer, excavator, grader and haul truck,” he explained. “We are incorporating theory and practical. They are learning the fundamentals and all sorts of basic maintenance of equipment pre- and post-inspection.”
The courses, offered in a real-world construction environment, aim to prepare workers for what employers expect of new hires.
“One of the biggest things I hear from contractors is they hire somebody that took a heavy equipment course and they don’t know how to do a pre-inspection, the circle check, they don’t start the day or end the day by greasing a machine,” Derro said. “That’s something that differentiates us. We are teaching students the right way to do it, the way management expects it to be done.”
The programs target everyone from students finishing high school to people looking for a second career.
“The way the economy is right now there are people who are middle aged who are looking for other options,” said Derro. “We’re also working with First Nations all over northern Ontario. They have a huge need for this and they show a great interest for trucking and construction. There is work in the north for that.”
The college has been following COVID-19 protocols for all students, instructors and staff members. In addition to smaller class sizes, they require screening, PPE, HEPA filters in all classrooms and trucks and are working an alternative online training measures.
“If this continues, which it looks like it will, we may be offering the theory portion to both heavy equipment and trucking both online,” Derro said.
With more feedback, they will be tailoring their programming to meet the needs of the industry and students.
“Being a new school, obviously we are evolving,” Derro noted. “We will be broadening our course offering both in truck and heavy. We’re going to base that on feedback from our students, First Nations, construction companies. We’re definitely open to whatever there is demand for. We will look at tailoring our programs around that.”
Derro said NCA puts a lot of emphasis on having the best qualified instructors for students to learn from.
“For example, our heavy equipment instructor team has years of experience with a large OEMs (original equipment manufacturer),” said Derro. “There’s also an option for our students to actually observe and eventually participate in real life construction applications. For example, they can ride and observe in a ready-mix truck.
“If you aspire to be in the construction industry this is definitely a great option to get exposed to that.”
NCA also offers non-vocational courses, to complement construction, mining and trucking, such as Surface Miner Common Core — Modules necessary to access pits and quarries, Transportation of Dangerous Goods and first aid.
For more information visit www.northernconstructionacademy.com.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.