The importance of apprenticeship and trades training to attract the next generation can’t be understated as the baby boomers reach retirement. Industry and post-secondary institutions must partner to promote the trades as a rewarding career path for young people and ensure a seamless transfer of knowledge.
Over the past five years, Hydro Ottawa and Algonquin College have taken this to heart. Through Algonquin’s two-year Powerline Technician Diploma program, these partners have demonstrated how the workplace and the classroom can and should work together.
As part of the program, students develop essential safety skills and knowledge, practice rigging and pole climbing, learn to design and plan overhead and underground power installations, apply technical standards, learn about hydraulic systems and practice installation and maintenance on poles.
Classroom theory at Algonquin couples with practical, hands-on learning at Hydro Ottawa’s facilities, under the guidance of instructors who are recently retired powerline technicians.
“We look at it as a two-year job interview, because we see these students and have them work on our site twice a week,” said Peter Bishop, Hydro Ottawa’s Supervisor, Algonquin and Apprenticeship Programs. “It’s incredibly valuable to have our veteran retirees transferring their knowledge to the next generation.”
Algonquin’s program is one of only a handful across Ontario. Each year, it attracts over 300 applications for 36 spots. This year, it will grow to 48 spots in response to interest and need for talent. Hydro Ottawa also provides summer co-op work-terms for up to nine students each year. It’s always looking for the top five or six in their class to bring into its apprenticeship program upon graduation. The rest have the solid grounding they need to find work with any other power utility in the province.
One of those 2016 top grads now working for Hydro Ottawa is Braydon Hughes. He decided to follow the example of two uncles who work in the utility industry. Algonquin’s diploma program appealed to him because of its proximity and the collaboration with Hydro Ottawa that emphasizes hands-on learning.
“It’s a career right from the get go,” Hughes said. “That was the main aspect that I liked – it’s not just some job, it’s a career. Going to school for just two years and then being able to transition right into a career motivated me to work hard through school.”
According to Bishop, the industry is hungry for talent right across the province. At Hydro Ottawa, almost half of its trades and technical workforce is forecast to retire in the next 10 years.
“If you can prove yourself, there’s a spot for you somewhere,” he said. “And we’ve got plenty of work right here in Ottawa.”
To learn more about the Powerline Technician Diploma program, visit www.algonquincollege.com/acce/program/powerline-technician/