NORTH PERTH – It isn’t every day that a mayor can take part in an announcement like the one made on April 19. Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece held an announcement at Smith Steel and Fabrication in Atwood with North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg, where they outlined funding for a fabled “third way” that Kasenberg envisioned early in his mayorship: “A way to provide adult education that didn’t mean that we locate a university or a college here.” As Kasenberg says, “those ambitions are actually quite unlikely in my lifetime.”
Pettapiece announced an over $1.8 million investment “to create a regional Technology and Skills Learning Hub.” While there is an ambitious future for this hub, which encompasses many fields and skills, the province “is also contributing up to $92,464 to the Technical Training Group (TTG) to help local youth find hands-on training in welding and metal fabrication.” Kasenberg says that he envisions this learning hub to be a nucleus for skilled workers to become advocates. He also envisions more than just welding and metal fabrication.
“We’ve talked about the (trades) that are forcing high demand in our area,” Kasenberg said. “We know that the regional labour market is significantly effected by big mega projects like Bruce (Power) that are drawing trades away from our community and other communities in the area. Obviously, we need to take some actions to replace those. We’ll be looking at that mix and we’ll be working with TTG closely in terms of their catalog and their capabilities. We know that there’s a number of opportunities here… when I think about the ones off the top of my head, we’ll be talking about carpentry and plumbing and electrical and, as we’ve talked about here, metal fabrication. I think all of those are reasonable trades to expect. But I also want to assert that a big part of what we’re doing is going beyond the trades… to the trades plus, and that’s a big part of the vision.
“We can provide access to university and college courses through the instrumentality of contact course.”
Kasenberg says that he first thought of the ‘third way’ after hearing of the youth drain in the municipality. He wanted youth in North Perth to be educated, but he wanted them to come back and contribute to the municipality. He and Jeffery Scholl of Contact North spent a lot of time in diners and coffee shops trying to come up with ideas to get around this problem. When the pandemic hit, that presented challenges and new opportunities.
“The original concept was to build a small footprint campus in North Perth,” Kasenberg explained. “But we’re in a weird time. The pandemic really changed our perspective on that too, because we have that sort of, ‘do we need bricks and mortar in an environment now?’ As we came to the crunch point and realized we had an opportunity – with a deadline – to submit an application and do something about this, we started to say ‘it’s OK to let go of our ambition and our desire at this point for physical campus. We’ll use existing community assets for the purposes of a physical campus.’
“It’d be lovely to have a community college campus or community college. It won’t happen in my lifetime. I’m 57 years old. I’m running out of days. But someday North Perth will be ready and the size where it can host more and do more. That day begins now.”
Scholl, online learning recruitment officer for Contact North, says that this is also for upskilling tradespeople who are already working in their field. It is a huge investment for workers to go back to school to acquire new skills. With the Technology and Skills Learning Hub, the hope is to minimize the time, cost, and impact of going away – if they even need to commute.
Kasenberg says that the Technology and Skills Learning Hub will secure state-of-the-art technology – like VR and AR systems – and support for learners. There will be physical classroom space in the Elma Memorial Community Centre and North Perth will see some classroom learning beginning as early as June of this year.
Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner