Technical education in Waterloo Region got a huge boost this week as the federal and provincial governments announced funding for Conestoga College in excess of $72 million.
“It’s by far the biggest announcement we’ve had in the history of the college,” said president John Tibbits. “It will provide tremendous opportunity for citizens of this area.”
Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology) announced a federal commitment of $38.1 million. Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Leeanna Pendergast announced $10 million in new funding from the province, on top of $24.3 million previously announced.
The funding comes out of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, a two-year, $2-billion investment in infrastructure at post-secondary institutions. The federal and provincial commitments are in addition to $8.1 million recently set aside by the Region of Waterloo.
The money will be directed toward expanding programming at Conestoga’s campuses in Waterloo and Guelph and a new campus in Cambridge. Within seven years, Conestoga expects to have space for an additional 4,000 full-time students, 2,000 more apprenticeship students and more than 100 new programs of instruction.
At the Waterloo campus, the college will establish a heating, ventiliation and air conditioning (HVAC) skills training centre in partnership with the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute. In another partnership with industry, the school will create a roofing skills training centre.
In the works for the Cambridge site is a major enhancement to the School of Engineering and Information Technology and the establishment of an institute of food processing technologies.
Tibbits said the food processing institute was the brainchild of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors. Food processing is the second largest industry in Ontario, employing 110,000 people. Much of the processing uses advanced technologies, and the industry needs trained, qualified people.
At the Guelph campus, Conestoga plans to establish a centre for alternative fuel technologies, to train technicians to repair and maintain alternative fuel vehicles.
Tibbits pointed to U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement of fuel efficiency standards as evidence of the shift to alternative fuelled vehicles.
The college’s president welcomed the investment in technological education after decades of federal money being poured into research.
“It’s about time that happened,” he said, noting that the average age of skilled tradespeople is high, and many are approaching retirement.
“Once this recession is over, there’s going to be a huge shortage of skilled people. There’s absolutely huge demand for these people now, and there’ll be greater demand in the future.”
Rapid changes in technology demand an educated workforce that is trained and literate, Tibbits said. Where it used to be possible to get a good job with a high school diploma, now 70 per cent of jobs in Waterloo Region require post-secondary education.
“We really need to invest in getting people skilled at a higher level, otherwise we’re going to have people unemployed.”