The Bingemans conference centre in Kitchener was buzzing Wednesday with the sound of hundreds of students – students in hard hats and welding helmets, students hammering and drilling and fitting pipes.
The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program held its eighth annual interactive career showcase in partnership with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and the Business Education Partnership of Waterloo Region.
More than 50 businesses, schools and organizations put together exhibits, ranging from the Stratford Chefs School to the Iron Workers District Council of Ontario to the 31 Combat Engineer Regiment.
“This is the biggest it’s ever been, with the most exhibitors we’ve ever had,” said coordinator Jill Nothstein.
There are two purposes to the career showcase, Nothstein explained. It gets kids to explore technological careers and apprenticeship options, and shows the relationship between industry and education.
Kids got hands-on experience at nearly all the booths; instead of listening to someone talk about drywalling, for example, they got to try hanging it themselves. They were also able to speak to professionals in the industry about what it’s like to do it as a career.
“I love it because it shows how important tech careers are to our community and just how many different career opportunities there are for students.”
Elmira District Secondary School set up a booth for the first time this year, showcasing projects built by the automation class. Students touring the exhibits were fascinated by the homemade pop machine and pinball machine on display.
Sam Lanesmith was kept busy explaining how the pinball machine worked, demonstrating how it could play in automatic mode using infrared and metal detecting sensors, and letting students try their hands at the game.
“The only reason that it’s lasted two years is that it goes to trade shows,” he said. “Otherwise we would have ripped it apart and used the parts.”
Those electrical and computer parts can be hard to come by, and it’s only through the support of businesses who donate parts that the classes can build the kinds of projects they do.
“I can’t say enough about industry. They’re great to support us,” said teacher Ron Fletcher.
There are about 12 students in his automation class this year – a nice number, he said, that allows them to focus on more complex projects.
“It takes an incredible amount of time to put these projects together.”
Lanesmith, who is in this year’s class, said he enjoys learning about wiring and programmable logic controllers, and being able to pick what project they’re going to work on.
“I like pretty much everything about the class,” he said.
From the crowds around the pop and pinball machines, more than a few students were wishing they could join in.
The showcase draws students from every high school in the Waterloo, and a few schools in the Wellington and Upper Grand boards. Over the course of the day, close to 2,000 students wandered through the displays and tried their hands at all sorts of skills.
“This is just a great way to promote what we’re doing,” Fletcher said.