Trades take off with Aurora


Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Trades students Jackie Strong, left, Brett Mandeville, Bobby Kayen, Roland Lafferty, and Mat Balsillie show off some of their projects.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Trades students Jackie Strong, left, Brett Mandeville, Bobby Kayen, Roland Lafferty, and Mat Balsillie show off some of their projects.

A trades program launched earlier this summer is already giving back to the community.

So far, students in Aurora College’s building trades helper program have built Adirondack chairs for the supported living facility and are working on a shed for the Hay River Community Gardens, along with various personal projects along the way.

Aurora College’s Ken Latour said he has a list of proposed projects from several groups in town that will stretch into next year’s curriculum, at least.

“Trades people are in demand across the North,” he said. “The college partners with lots of groups to identify programming needs and what will be successful, and this has definitely been a hit.”

The program isn’t strictly a trades apprenticeship, but instead functions as a stepping stone toward more training, or immediate employment. Instructor Brandan Ashcroft said for some people, there is no need or desire to go any further, but that after completing the course, participants can find work with construction companies as labourers and helpers.

“It’s a good leg up into finding out if you like a trade,” he said, adding that the program covers specific skills such as pipe-fitting and stripping wires for plumbing and electrical work, respectively. “There are lots of trades beyond carpentry and welding, which is what most people think of. Even painting can be a trade now.”

Ashcroft, however, said he hopes to instil something far more basic in his students – namely, a work ethic.

“It’s about fostering attitudes, skills, and the confidence to use them,” he said. “The ability to follow directions without complaint is really important, as is being able to recognize when something is beyond your capacity and say so.”

Latour agreed, adding most of Aurora’s programs aim to develop positive attitudes among students as well as the ability to value a job well done.

“It’s often ‘soft’ skills, like being able to get along on a job site, that determine whether you’re going to get hired or not,” Latour said. “Attitude is so important.”

This is Aurora’s first truly hands-on program in Hay River and it has already proven to be more successful at retaining students than the average. The same five participants have attended since the course began at the end of May. This is a first, according to Latour. He said the college had been looking into this sort of programming for some time, but had lacked the space in which to do it. With Diamond Jenness High School’s new shop being built, that problem was solved.

Part of the draw of the course, Latour said, is the practical application of the instruction, but also that it isn’t held in a classroom. However, Ashcroft said basic academic skills are still taught.

“It’s a bit of a brush up for math and reading,” he said. “They’re important skills needed for problem solving on the job every day, so we do try to work them in as much as we can.”

Mat Balsillie signed up for the course as a way to try out carpentry and electrical work before deciding which one to pursue at a higher level.

“I’m pretty comfortable with carpentry,” he said. “But electrical stuff, it’s pretty tough to do that around the house.”

Balsillie said he worked for the past three summers doing menial labour and said he didn’t want to make it a fourth. As the building trades helper program was the only one being offered this summer in Hay River, he decided to give it a try.

While completion of the program does not guarantee immediate employment opportunities, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Prospective employers have visited the school’s shop over the past few weeks to see what the students have accomplished and Latour has been talking to community businesses to see what kind of placement opportunities he can find.

“We’ve been using different avenues to get the word out, and while we certainly haven’t been limiting who we take, we did want to attract youth,” he said. “Without targeting them, that’s what we ended up with.”

— Sarah Ladik