'It helps them see the real workplace, the expectations'
For Sudbury students and young people, hands-on training from industry professionals can open countless doors to a successful career.
Last week, 10 employers who provide those kinds of opportunities in Greater Sudbury were recognized by local educators at the biannual Stellar Awards.
Hosted by the Education Coordinating team for Workforce Planning Sudbury and Manitoulin, the awards were presented at the Northbury hotel by representatives from all four school boards, both colleges, the university and other training institutes.
Reggie Caverson, executive director of Workforce Planning, said the honourees offered training in sectors from construction and forestry, to retail and healthcare.
"The purpose behind the awards is to recognize exemplary employers who have provided exemplary experiential learning for students," she said. "It could be through co-ops, apprenticeships, placements, internships; it's the employers that are helping to train our future workforce."
The kinds of hands-on learning experiences they provide are invaluable for helping students stand out and employers find the skilled workers they need.
"Employers over the last number of years have told us there have been real challenges with people looking for work," said Caverson. "They lacked the skills, the qualification, even the soft skills and experience.
"By participating in these programs, it helps them see the real workplace, the expectations. It helps train that future workforce who've never been in a workplace before."
While the awards have been an annual tradition for over a decade, this year's ceremony is the first since the pandemic began.
According to Caverson, students faced challenges finding these kinds of opportunities due to restrictions.
"We've heard, particularly in health care, how hard it was to get placements," she said. "But even in retail and other fields that have opportunities for students, they weren't able to take students.
"Now it's been a challenge of gearing back up again. It's full steam ahead of getting employers to get back on board with training the future workforce."
Among the honourees was Nicole Lavoie, an instructor for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 128. In her role, Lavoie introduced young apprentices to the Boilermakers trade and helped them develop skill sets in tool safety and welding for the Tomorrow's Trade program, which nominated her for the award.
"(She) has a heart of gold, and uses her professionalism and wealth of experience to open the minds of youth and role model the lifestyle and commitment of a professional tradesperson," said outreach adviser Ryan Forigo. "It's a great privilege to work with this group."
One of the young people deeply impacted by Lavoie's work is Jenna Shambrook. A graduate of the Tomorrow's Trades program, Shambrook is a second-year Boilermaker apprentice and Lavoie's mentee.
She said the hands-on experience she's gained working with Lavoie changed her life.
"A year ago, I was that people that you are trying to connect to these careers," she said. "When I started the program, I was driving a van that wasn't mine. I was choosing between paying for groceries and paying for my bills.
"Now, I just brought my mom on a fully paid trip to Cuba. I have a reliable vehicle and I'm even starting to think about things like buying a house. A year ago, that wasn't even in my brain."
In a brief, unscripted address to the employers gather for the awards ceremony, Shambrook thanked them for their commitment to providing educational opportunities to young people.
"Here in the north and in Sudbury, that's where we need things like this. That's where people like me need to make those connections and find the people and find ways into these careers, so they can change their life the way mine was changed."
2022 STELLAR AWARD RECIPIENTS
Julie Zulich, TESC Construction. Nominated by Cambrian College.
Ryan Forigo, Tomorrow's Trades. Nominated by City of Greater Sudbury, Social Services Division.
Vermillion Forest Management Company. Nominated by College Boreal.
Total Equipment Services Inc. Nominated by Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario.
Richard and Kim McKay, Giant Tiger. Nominated by Conseil scolaire publique du Grand Nord de l'Ontario.
Manitoulin Centennial Manor. Nominated by Kenjgewin Teg
CENO. Nominated by Laurentian University.
Dean Luttrell, Rush Trucks Centre Canada. Nominated by Rainbow District School Board.
St. Joseph's Villa. Nominated by Sudbury Catholic District School Board.
Nicole Lavoie, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 128. Nominated by Tomorrow's Trades.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star