Students at Aurora College skewed on the younger side last week, as high schoolers from the Dehcho region participated in the annual Trades Awareness Program (TAP) for the first time.
Seven students from Fort Liard and 15 from Fort Simpson traveled to Thebacha Campus to learn about opportunities in the trades while having their first taste of college life from Sept. 20 to 26.
“Aurora College Thebacha Campus has skilled instructors and well-equipped shops that make this a real skill-building opportunity for the participants,” said Duane McDonald, acting chair of Trades, Apprenticeships and Industrial Training at the college. “Students who attend will have some understanding of what it takes to be successful in the trades after they graduate from high school.”
As part of the intensive introductory programs, students rotated through carpentry, electricial, heavy-duty technician, camp cook and plumbing courses. At the end of the week, the kids and their chaperones showed off their newly developed skills in a Trades Olympics.
Participants also earn credits for Career and Technology Studies, which go toward a high school diploma.
Since 2005, the TAP experience has been offered to students throughout the South Slave; in fact, they will have their turn to take the introductory course during the first week of October.
For kids in smaller, more remote communities such as Fort Simpson – where the woodshop has been closed for years due to safety concerns – the TAP program offers a chance for students to access new equipment and instructional resources unavailable to them locally.
“Fort Liard is less cosmopolitan than Fort Simpson,” said Ken Nowoselski, program support teacher from Fort Liard. “These kids get no exposure unless we get out there.” The benefits to the program are twofold, in his view.
“One of the challenges that they’re going to have to deal with is they are going to have to leave home, learn to thrive in other communities,” he said. “We’re looking for more opportunities for the kids to have that kind of interaction. Right now sports is really big, but sports trips only last maybe two to three days. We were in Fort Smith for a week and so the first couple days was novelty and then it’s like here’s the routine, it’s starting to kick in.”
By exposing future workers to programs like TAP, communities are also taking a proactive step to fill gaps in the workforce.
“If your town isn’t booming at the moment then you’ve got to figure out where the kids can go to get the experience because, at some point, different communities will boom,” Nowoselski said. “As soon as land claims happen in Liard, they’re ready to get different companies coming in and they’re trying to get the kids ready.”
By extending the TAP program to students from new regions, teachers and college instructors alike hope they can elicit more support from the GNWT and private industry to support the development of trades education at the secondary school level.
“We need to set the bar higher,” Nowoselski said. “This kind of event shows that there is interest from kids in the trades. In these communities that are more isolated, we need a lot more support.”
In the spring, the students are set to return to Fort Smith, where they will get the chance to spend an entire week taking on the trade they found most interesting during the September visit.