Red Deer College was abuzz on Thursday, with the campus’s usual student population supplemented by more than 3,300 additional youths from across Central Alberta.
Representing some 35 high schools, the visitors were kicking tires on scores of career options during CAREERexpo. Organized by CAREERS: The Next Generation, the one-day event gave employers, post-secondary institutions and other organizations a chance to share information about trades, professions and other occupations available to young people today.
At Quinn Contracting Ltd.’s exhibit, young passers-by were able to try their hand at bolting, soldering, threading and welding pipe.
“It’s amazing to see the interest that some of the children actually have in trying it,” said Jo-Ann Curtis, a human resources official with Quinn Contracting. “We have a lot of girls in their fluffy little flip-flops and they come on in and throw on some coveralls and get at it.”
This kind of exposure is important, said Curtis, because it could prompt a young person to consider the trades as a career — and help address a pending skilled labour shortage in Alberta.
“We need to attract the new generation to come in so they can take over.”
Nearby, Jana Collicutt of Collicutt Compression Solutions Ltd. was sharing information about the new natural gas compression technician trade.
“We really want to get out and promote this, and encourage people to take this trade,” she said, noting that most of the young people she spoke with weren’t aware of the option.
But Collicutt, who helps with human resources at Collicutt Compression, said CAREERexpo was a great place to learn about all sorts of careers.
“I wish it was around when I was in high school.”
Mike VanLanduyt, a journeyman carpenter and construction teacher at Notre Dame High School, was supervising work on a shed. CAREERexpo attendees were able to try some basic carpentry work there.
VanLanduyt said Notre Dame’s Building Opportunities Program, which enables students to build a house each year, has graduated nearly 100 students during its eight years.
Two participants — Grade 12 students Dylan Rutschke and Chaz Piche — said Building Opportunities introduced them to construction and helped them get part-time jobs with local builders.
“It lets you try it out and see if it’s your fit,” said Piche.
Kendra Frith, a Grade 10 student at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, wants to be a pastor.
But she appreciated the wealth of career information at Red Deer College on Thursday.
“It’s pretty sweet; it’s pretty informative.”
Classmate Mackenzie deBoon, who hopes to become a psychologist, was also impressed. “It’s very well done.”
Jerry Heck, vice-president of stakeholder relations and growth with CAREERS: The Next Generation, said CAREERexpo helps students decide what kind of career they would like and shows them how to get there.
“For young people, the importance of this event is to increase and broaden their horizons as it pertains to career opportunity.”
Employers also benefit, he added, by drawing workers into their industries and even allowing then to meet prospective future workers.
Red Deer College president and CEO Joel Ward said RDC is happy to host the event and showcase all that it has to offer.
He said many young people aren’t aware of their career options and what they need to get there, so providing information is a critical step to meeting Alberta’s future skilled labour needs.
Ward said he’s been encouraged by the increased awareness of the trades and what they can provide to young people.
“For the first time, I think in my lifetime, we’re talking about a trades career being something important, something that you can earn a very good living at, and make as significant contribution to the economic development of our communities.
No longer is trades an opt-out career, it is now a career of choice.”
Red Deer College, Ward pointed out, trains 2,800 to 4,000 apprentices a year, making it the third largest trades training institution in Alberta, after NAIT and SAIT.
Such localized training is critical to ensuring that there is a strong workforce in this region, he said.
“Whenever we send folks out of Central Alberta, there’s a very strong possibility that they won’t come back.”
CAREERexpo was started six years ago by Central Alberta Economic Partnership Ltd.