College lays off 11 staff as numbers decline in apprenticeship program

Red Deer College has had to lay off 11 instructors as a result of dropping numbers of students in the welding and steamfitter/pipefitter programs.

Red Deer College has had to lay off 11 instructors as a result of dropping numbers of students in the welding and steamfitter/pipefitter programs.

Over the past four years, the number of students has increased in trades substantially, moving from more than 2,700 apprenticeship students in the 2006-2007 school year to around 3,500 apprenticeship students expected in the 2009-2010 year.

However, the number of welding apprentices has dropped to 584 from 800 two years ago and the steamfitter/pipefitter apprentices have dropped to 168 from 240 a few years ago.

“The reality is if we don’t have the students, we can’t justify the faculty,” said Jim Madder, vice-president academic at RDC.

The province funds the college’s trades programs based on the number of apprentices taking the program. If student numbers go down, then funding also drops.

Michael Kulchisky, dean of trades and manufacturing at RDC, said some of the theory class sizes will be increasing in size. He said where some classes once had 12 students, there will now be 24 students. Kulchisky said the practical lab side will continue to have low class size numbers.

“We’re still going to create a nice small community college feel for our students,” Kulchisky said.

Madder said the most difficult part of the process is losing well-trained people and good faculty.

“We fight to get good faculty and develop them over that time period and letting them go is not something we enjoy.”

He said RDC has trained a lot of apprentices who work in Fort McMurray in energy services. Many of them have been laid off and that may cause them to question if they want to continue on this career path.

“It’s actually quite a lucrative area to be in but it is also quite a volatile area to be in,” Madder said.

While apprenticeship numbers are dropping in some programs, they are increasing in other areas.

Madder said electrical and automotive service trades continue to grow, which is why apprenticeship student numbers are still high.

“So while we’ve let go of a number of faculty, we’re certainly hiring in other areas as well,” he said.

There were positions for an automotive service technician instructor, carpentry instructors and sprinkler systems installer instructors posted on the RDC website this week, with pay in the range of $52,000 to $79,000.

Kulchisky said he could see the welding and the steamfitter/pipefitter programs expanding again within two years.

“I think depending on what the economy in Central Alberta does — not so much the global economy — but what Central Alberta decides to do. So I think the enrolment in those programs will follow the construction economy,” Kulchisky said.

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