Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, speaks at the grand opening of the new Trades Training Centre in Vernon Tuesday. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

New Okanagan College facility gets students job-ready

First class in session today at Trades Training Centre in Vernon

Vernon is building up its workforce to meet the growing demand for skilled workers.

Thanks to the newly opened Trades Training Centre at Okanagan College’s Kalamalka campus, even more students will be able to gain the skills and knowledge to build communities throughout British Columbia. The facility saw its first class, 18 plumbing and foundation students, test it out Tuesday.

The 1,250 square-metre, purpose-built training space for students and instructors houses a dedicated welding shop and multi-use space for carpentry, electrical, plumbing and pipefitting programs.

“Skilled tradespeople are helping to build the best B.C. Opening the doors to relevant, responsive and high-quality trades training in communities such as Vernon gives students the knowledge and experience that employers and industries need,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training at the grand opening Tuesday. “With thousands of careers expected in the trades over the next 10 years, we need to ensure we are supporting a strong future workforce.”

See related: Vernon students discover trades at Okanagan College

For employers like Keith Construction, the need for skilled workers is a growing concern.

“B.C. is going to create one million new jobs between now and 2020,” said owner Ken Dahlen. “Seventy per cent of those are expected to have some sort of post-secondary.”

But being the son of a carpenter isn’t enough anymore, as training is essential for those entering the workforce.

“With net-zero building and such, it’s not like you just know how to assemble a house the way we used to,” said Dahlen, who learned from his father Keith.

Amanda Hodgson, 26, an electrical foundation graduate at Okanagan College, is doing just that — gaining the skills she needs towards becoming a red seal electrician.

Originally, Hodgson started her education aiming to be an elementary teacher. But the Armstrong-raised student shifted gears.

“I knew the trades would be in more demand,” said Hodgson, whose class was the last to be trained at the old facility at the Vernon airport.

She is looking forward to continuing her education at the new Trades Training Centre, which has increased capacity by almost 40 per cent to 150 spaces (up from 108).

“Technology is constantly evolving in the trades, so having a new facility like this, with the latest equipment, is really going to enhance the learning experience for students,” said Hodgson. “Having the facility right on campus is also going to mean students will enjoy an even better experience and can tap into all the amenities and services at the Vernon campus.”

The centre will house the college’s Women in Trades training program. It will create space for specialized programming, such as Gateway to the Trades initiatives tailored to Indigenous communities and employers in the region. These programs provide women and Indigenous learners with outreach, mentoring and leadership development to promote careers in the skilled trades.

Okanagan Indian Band member Justin Peters, OC alumni, says the education he received has given him a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging. And he is eager to see more students gain similar benefit with the new centre.

“I am so grateful that we have this infrastructure that will create hundreds of jobs and keep the workhorse moving.”

Of the $6.21-million total project cost, the Province of B.C. provided $2.88 million and the Government of Canada provided $2.66 million. The Okanagan College Foundation has raised nearly $1 million to cover the $673,000 capital construction cost, as well as provide support for students and programming. Federal funding was made available through the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund.

That capital cost has been met thanks to the support of donors such as Keith Construction, George Galbraith and Kal Tire. So far the Okanagan College Foundation has raised $803,000, but fundraising efforts continue as it aims to reach $1 million to accommodate several scholarships.

“We transform lives and communities but we can’t do that without your help,” said Jim Hamilton, OC president.

Hamilton recalls the first discussions back in 2004 about a trades training facility with John Haller.

“We were told that trades training would never be offered in the Okanagan and now we have four trades training facilities,” said Hamilton of centres in Penticton, Kelowna, Salmon Arm and now Vernon.

“Our Vernon Trades Training Centre is going to be critical in making sure there are enough skilled tradespeople to meet our industry partners’ labour demands and keep the region’s economy strong and vibrant.”

The new Trades Training Centre will also be able to offer third and fourth-year carpentry training, something that wasn’t previously available.

Stephen Fuhr, MP for Kelowna — Lake Country is proud the province was able to invest: “Modern learning spaces are key to helping students develop the skills they’ll need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The Canadian government’s contribution is also viewed as an investment in the economy.

“This historic investment by the Government of Canada is a down payment on the government’s vision to position Canada as a global centre for innovation,” said the Honourable Navdeep Bains, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. “That means making Canada a world leader in turning ideas into solutions, science into technologies, skills into jobs and startup companies into global successes. This investment will create conditions that are conducive to innovation and long-term growth, which will, in turn, keep the Canadian economy globally competitive.”

Advancing trades training is vital, according to Industry Training Authority CEO Gary Herman.

“A modern trades training space is a sure way to prepare British Columbians with the right skills and knowledge for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Herman. “By offering programs that support trades training for Indigenous peoples and women, more opportunities will be created for them to pursue rewarding careers in their communities.”

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