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Mohawk College skilled trades school sees largest number of students in 10 years

Dan O'Reilly
Mohawk College skilled trades school sees largest number of students in 10 years

After working as a film and television editor for five years, Gregory Rojenko became tired of the working conditions and embarked on a new career path.

In December, the Mohawk College graduate completed his air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic apprenticeship and expects to write and pass his Red Seal Certification exam shortly.

“I have already completed my (apprenticeship) hours,” said Rojenko, who enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship training program that includes Basic Level 1 Apprenticeship Training.

After finishing that program, he found work in the industry and then returned at different periods to complete his Level Two (intermediate) and Level Three (advanced) sessions.

“I really like the opportunities that are available in this trade,” says the 32-year-old Beamsville, Ont. resident who had originally considered plumbing, but opted for air conditioning and refrigeration after attending a career open house at Mohawk.

His journey into construction is just one of the countless ones that are occurring at the college’s Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship in Stony Creek.

“We are one of the largest trades-related colleges in the province with between 2,700 to 2,900 students studying here at one time,” says the dean Wayne Ostermaier.

“As we move into 2022, we have the largest number of students in probably 10 years.”

In an interview, which was partially a review of what was accomplished during the past year and a look forward to the new one, Ostermaier said the college has emerged from the constraints placed on teaching and learning at the height of the COVID pandemic.

While the college never went into lockdown mode, it did have to provide academic training through ZOOM and other virtual programs.

“The labs were kept open as that has to be hands on training. Our classrooms did reopen in July 2020.”

Despite the pandemic, the number of student enrolments has increased in its 17 post-secondary and 18 apprenticeship construction trade programs, as well in its refrigeration and plumbing programs, both of which are offered in post-secondary and apprenticeship streams.

A number of factors are responsible for that increase, including a rebound in the economy and the need for skilled tradespeople to fill vacant positions, he says.

“Look around, drive around, and you see all sorts of help wanted signs for welders, electricians, roofers.”

Mohawk also makes a concerted effort to attract students into construction through its Apprenticeship Hub, a broad-based initiative that includes working with the college’s industry partners, its program advisory committees, the community, parents and Hamilton’s two boards of education.

At the request of those school boards, college representatives visit both elementary and high schools and talk about the career possibilities in construction. Quite often those speakers are the very same professors who are delivering the training, he says.

As an example of how the college meets the need for skilled workers, Ostermaier points to its Elevating Devices program. Consisting of an Elevating Devices Mechanic apprenticeship and a two-year Mechanical Technician Elevating Devices, it was launched in 2021 to meet the critical need for qualified elevator technicians.

This spring its first cohort of 33 students in the diploma program will be graduating and the number of people entering the apprenticeship is also on the rise, he says.

The incoming year will also mark the launch of a Bachelor of Business Administration Trades Management.

It’s specifically geared to construction industry members who want to progress into more management type roles.

Mohawk has been working with the Ministry of Education and George Brown and Algonquin Colleges, to develop the program, which is the first of its kind in Ontario.

A number of details, including meeting all the ministry’s requirements, still have to be completed. But the plan is to offer the online program sometime in 2022, he says.

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