By Paul Adair
The Beausejour Brokenhead Development Corporation is
looking to better serve the construction industry of rural Manitoba with its plans for the Eastman Vocational Training Centre, an innovative new approach to delivering top-notch training and for filling the many vacancies found in high-demand vocations across eastern Manitoba
In 2013, the Beausejour Brokenhead Development Corporation (BBDC) set out to explore the potential of a new vocational school built within the Eastman region. Dubbed, the Eastman Vocational Training Centre (EVTC), this new school is to take a novel approach to training the next generation of skilled tradespeople. Five years later, the preliminary work first put forward by BBDC seems to be gaining some traction with policy makers, and EVTC appears to be coming ever closer to fruition.
The committee that oversees the development of EVTC is being led by BBDC, but also includes members from each of the eleven municipalities and towns that make up the Eastman region; all the way from Highway 59 to the Ontario border. Each of these towns and municipalities have come to recognize the vital importance of providing vocational training in their region and, as such, have all backed the Eastman Vocational Training Centre project through the funding of a Feasibility Study Report, an important step in further promoting the project to the provincial government.
“The project has gone very well so far, thanks – in large part – to the support from the communities involved,” said BBDC chair and newly elected Mayor of Beausejour, Ray Schirle. “A recent cabinet shuffle meant that we had to double back a little and re-introduce ourselves to some new faces in the Department of Education and we still need to meet with the Minister of Education and the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology to get a solid program together, but things are definitely starting to happen.”
Stay to study, stay to work
Students from eastern Manitoba currently find themselves funnelled to larger urban centres such as Winnipeg, Brandon, or Thompson to take specialized vocational training – basically going anywhere in the province except eastern Manitoba. Too often the Eastman region has seen that once the decision to leave has been made, those students simply do not return back home to rural Manitoba.
This drain of Eastman’s youth to larger urban centres has been detrimental to the overall economic health of the region, as indicated by a recent needs assessment administered by BBDC for Beausejour-Brokenhead. As part of its analysis, BBDC interviewed more than 130 of the 3,650 businesses located in the region and were repeatedly told of a worker shortage in regard to skilled trades. Due to this shortfall, many local business have found it difficult to expand operations and grow, while others have been forced to close their doors entirely. Even more troubling, this is a problem that is expected to only grow over time, with the Manitoba government predicting upwards of 22,000 job vacancies across the province within just six years.
“But by providing students with the opportunity for a quality education closer to home, they are much more likely to stay and work within the region, and that can only be seen as a win-win for everyone involved,” said Schirle. “Other regions we have spoken to that have established vocational school programs have all experienced very positive impacts to their communities, such as benefits to the local economy, the creation [of] new jobs and even more reason for people to move and stay in the area. This is what we want for the Eastman region.”
“We want these high school students to have the opportunity to get the education they need to get them into the field they want to work in.”
– Ray Schirle, BBDC
Rolling with a “hub and spoke” model
The town of Beausejour was selected to be the home for EVTC because of its central location within the region, as well as its geographic position relative to the provincial capital. With Beausejour acting as the hub, the vocational centre will also deliver specialty classes – or spokes – into other communities within Eastern Manitoba that can be geared to those areas’ specific regional needs.
It was with the Eastman’s Indigenous communities in mind that this “hub and spoke” delivery model was first conceived. When consulting with First Nations communities in the area, as well as the Manitoba Metis Federation, BBDC uncovered genuine anxiety that students seeking vocational training would end up losing themselves to a large urban centre like Winnipeg. The innovative learning model proposed by BBDC will fulfill the desire of those communities to retain their youth in the area and out of the bigger cities.
“We determined that these students would truly be better educated in a smaller community setting that is closer to home,” said Schirle. “With Beausejour as the hub, these students will be able to commute back and forth to their homes and remain part of their communities and cultural backgrounds.”
BBDC is also working to involve students in the Sunrise School Division who are coming up through high school. The introduction of Senior Years Technology Programs will help expose these students to the valuable career opportunities available through study at EVTC. The vocational training provided by EVTC will allow students to graduate Grade 12 with a first-year seal that demonstrates a degree of knowledge and competency for a job in the skilled trades.
“The Sunrise School Division is always open to talking with our community partners, such as BBDC,” said Cathy Tymko, superintendent/CEO at Sunrise School Division. “Economic development is vitally important to our communities and we are supportive of any initiatives that will improve upon the opportunities available to our students.”
The future of EVTC
BBDC’s Feasibility Study Report identified employers’ 12 critical class offerings that would be essential for EVTC: welding; heavy duty equipment technician; business and marketing; carpentry; electrical trades and technologies; plumbing and piping; information, communications and media; machining; automotive technology; health and human services; refrigeration and air conditioning; and design drafting. BBDC is currently working with government to obtain funding to launch some pilot project programming.
Based on its needs assessment, BBDC is soon planning on rolling out some preliminary classes to be housed in existing government infrastructure located in Beausejour, such as empty government offices and boardrooms, and – potentially – space in the government garage. However, in the long-term, BBDC is keeping their eye on eventually building an entirely new facility for EVTC.
“Should everything go smoothly, and we get on a budget process with the province, we will hopefully move forward to actually building a new facility here in Beausejour,” said Schirle. “This will have a positive impact on the community and be a tremendous asset moving forward. But of course, we have to work with the province for funding and that can always be a challenge. I personally hope that we can start to see something going by next year.”
“By providing students with the opportunity for a quality education closer to home, they are much more likely to stay and work within the region. This is something that can only be seen as a win-win for everyone involved.”
– Ray Schirle, BBDC
– Ray Schirle, BBDC