Conestoga’s School of Trades & Apprenticeship welcomed more than 100 secondary school guidance counsellors on October 25 to the Cambridge - Reuter Drive campus for Tradeucation. The event offered a full day of hands-on workshops and presentations to better understand skilled trades and apprenticeship pathways to support secondary students with questions about possible career opportunities.
A panel of Conestoga students and graduates shared their journey to highlight the different skilled trades pathways at Tradeucation on October 25. L-R: Joni Jean (moderator), chair to the Schools of Engineering & Technology and Trades & Apprenticeship; Vikki Schlonies; Kristin Deskau; Connor Hurst; Ethan Magpali; Dustin Leitch; Michael Steel; and Robbie McLellan (on screen).
Participants heard from Conestoga administration, faculty, students, graduates and industry partners about skilled trades careers and available programming and training at the college. They also had the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities led by faculty in carpentry; CNC machining; electrical; heating, refrigeration and air conditioning; masonry; plumbing; robotics; welding; woodworking; and motive power.
A growing skills gap has emerged as the demand to keep pace with population growth and changing workforce demographics increases. Reports indicate more than 700,000 skilled tradespeople are set to retire by 2028. Canada needs more than 167,000 new apprentices alone to keep pace. Supporting new entrants into trades education and training programs is an important step towards addressing the talent shortage.
As part of the event, a panel of Conestoga students and graduates shared their journey to highlight the different skilled trades pathways and offered advice to support students interested in exploring skilled trades careers. Panelists included Robbie McLellan, Vikki Schlonies, Kristin Deskau, Connor Hurst, Ethan Magpali, Dustin Leitch and Michael Steel.
McLellan started in the truck and coach trade in 1996 as part of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) and completed co-op with Altruck International. He attended apprenticeship training at Conestoga and Mohawk College and received his 310T licence in 1999. McLellan is currently the director of service operations at Altruck.
Schlonies is a Red Seal plumber/fitter as well as professor and program coordinator of the Plumber (Apprenticeship) program at Conestoga. Schlonies’s pathway began by completing the college’s Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) General Carpenter Pre-apprenticeship program in 2004 before labouring with a local plumber.
At age 37, Deskau decided to make a change and enrolled in Conestoga’s WIST program, leading to a career as a journeyperson lather (interior systems mechanic) with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners America.
Hurst is a 2018 graduate of Conestoga’s Powerline Technician program and is a Red Seal lineworker at London Hydro. His skilled trades journey began in 2015 as part of Dual Credit and OYAP, working with a local electrician before discovering the powerline industry. Hurst became an apprentice after graduation and completed his Red Seal in 2022.
Magpali began the Dual Credit program at Conestoga with an interest in Robotics. He is in his final year of the Electro Mechanical and Automation Maintenance program and looks forward to starting his journey as a millwright.
Leitch is a 2007 graduate of Conestoga’s Automotive Service Technician (Apprenticeship) program and a 2020 Conestoga Alumni of Distinction recipient. He followed his passion for auto repair, which began a progressive career with Toyota and obtained his Master Technician Certification in 2009. In 2010, Leitch joined Tesla Inc., where he has worked in Canada, the United States and Asia, holding various roles. He also shares his industry knowledge and experience as a Program Advisory Committee member for the Conestoga Automotive Service Technician (Apprenticeship) program.
Steel is a 2005 graduate of Conestoga’s General Carpentry (Apprenticeship) program and has been steadily employed for 21 years with Dakon Construction, working on various projects, including the recent renovation of the college’s Guelph campus, where he completed his apprenticeship in-school training.
“Give your students exposure to as much as you can,” said Leitch in offering advice to participants. “For me, I figured out that I liked the automotive industry. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be and it took working in that industry to figure out my path. Get your students to explore what they like about industries they may be interested in and expose them to all the opportunities within that industry. They might discover that they like the trades, and that’s wonderful. If it’s another part of the industry, that’s also wonderful.”
TradeUcation was hosted with support from the Canerector Foundation. The foundation also supports Conestoga students through a multi-year skilled trades scholarship program to remove financial barriers for students pursuing their education. Scholarship recipients (Canerector Scholars) act as mentors and ambassadors for skilled trades, continuing to build capacity and strength needed in the trade sector locally and beyond.
Conestoga is a provincial leader in the delivery of trades and apprenticeship training to serve industry needs and growing communities. Comprehensive programming includes a wide range of programs that provide pathways to employment in skilled trades careers as well as pre-apprenticeship training and in-school training for apprentices. Visit the School of Trades & Apprenticeship for more information.