Original Published on Nov 14, 2022 at 23:08
Students gravitating to learning modern equipment
By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
THUNDER BAY, ONT. — When manufacturing technology teacher Mike Lemieux arrived at Westgate High School after the closure of Sir Winston Churchill high school, he brought in his expertise in skilled trades and amplified their specialist high skills major in manufacturing program.
Lemieux, who is also a Red Seal millwright, began to recruit more students into the trades courses to expose skilled trades as a career choice. In the last six months, he has placed six high school-trained students to job sites with full apprenticeships, pay and full benefits with a promise of a growing career.
“When I came to Westgate, the principal was very good to me and asked, ‘What type of shop do you want?’ She said ‘design your dream shop and we’ll try and achieve that,’ and they have done that for me,’” Lemieux said.
“I have a very large metal-working shop for the kids that encompasses welding machining, computer numeric control (CNC) machining and manual machining. If it’s metal, we do it.”
Lemieux says it appears that more students are gravitating to the trades courses, especially to learn about new modern equipment.
The CNC machining is the newest technology and it’s very easy to do,” he said. “A lot of the kids are interested in Windows so we learned 3D design and the students actually design what they make.”
Lemieux says the high school trade programs prepare the students for transition into post-secondary training or they can head straight to a job site from high school if they have the maturity.
“The high school trades courses give the students a leg up because they’ll have a little bit more knowledge going into (post-secondary education) as opposed to someone who hasn’t taken the program,” he said. “The feedback I’ve got from instructors at the college is keep doing what you’re doing because the kids are learning and it makes it easier for them to learn even more in college.”
Lemieux says the manufacturing program has always been popular and all programs in their tech department have grown.
“Automotive has grown. Woodworking has grown,” he said, adding these are all learning opportunities that when completed, students can basically walk straight into apprenticeships.
“A lot of the unions are hiring kids without them going to college,” he said. “We are very lucky to have the support of unions like the ironworkers who have supported us by helping us out with doing presentations and giving us welding rods because a big part of our programs is consumable. It’s very expensive to run our program and they see the value in what we’re doing.”
Lemieux added that there are students who will definitely do well in a trades career but they may still need that college experience to achieve a certain maturity level to join the workforce.
This month, the province has started the Level Up! series of skilled trades career fairs for high school students to address labour shortages in high-demand sectors and help deliver the province’s ambitious infrastructure plans, including building 1.5 million homes by 2031.
“Ontario is facing the largest labour shortage in a generation, which means when you have a job in the skilled trades, you have a job for life,” Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development said.
The career fair will be in Thunder Bay on Nov. 29 and will showcase 144 different skilled trades through interactive exhibitions and hands-on activities. Students can meet with tradespeople and local employers to learn first-hand about the many career opportunities.
Meanwhile, Lemieux continues his work with local unions and contractors whose members spend time in the classrooms and workshops with the students talking to them about their career plans.
Part of the criteria for the manufacturing program involves students earning co-operative education credits through the school’s Co-operative Education department to earn a co-op placement spot with a local partnering company.
“We’ve placed kids all over the place such as Coastal Steel, Infinity Design, Thunder Bay Hydraulics, and numerous machine shops,” he noted. “All those students that were placed on job sites helped them gain apprenticeships with these companies.”
Lemieux says the more these youths learn in high school, the better off they’re going to be.