Conestoga College skilled trades campus set to open this fall

By Joe McGinty

Conestoga College is building one of the biggest trade schools in Ontario in Cambridge with an emphasis on bringing trades back to the province. 

Set to open this fall for the campus's first phase, the new Conestoga Skilled Trades Campus at 25 Reuter Dr. will consist of a 335,000 square-foot building and have over 150,000 sq ft of shops and labs with a plan to amalgamate all of the trades in a multi-year plan. 

“It's going to be beautiful and we are so happy to be part of this,” said Suzanne Moyer, dean of trades and apprenticeships at Conestoga College. “It's exciting, because I think eventually it will be the biggest trade school in Ontario, if not in the country.”

In a push to bring back the trades industry to the province, Conestoga College along with community partners like Toyota and ATS, have funded the over $33.5 million campus that will eventually hold over 30 different skilled trades. 

“They're all realizing that if we don't increase our enrolments, they're all going to be fighting over the same graduates and it's going to lead to significant inflation and people jumping ship to go from one company to another. That's not good for anybody,” said Tony Thoma, executive dean of engineering, technology and trades at Conestoga College. 

With an aging workforce, Moyer said the average age of some trades is around 55-years-old. Their goal is to make the skilled trades a first option and not a backup plan. 

To accomplish this, they are going to continue to reach out to young students in elementary and high school respectively and show them that there is a viable career to be had in the trades. 

“We can actually have trade shows at the new campus for the employers to meet with students, almost like recruiting events for the trades,” said Thoma. “We want to show that the trades are not dirty places, that they're not only for men. We want to encourage other demographics that are not typically represented in the trades to join.”

Conestoga College has also made a point to make this the most inclusive attempt at bringing in a more diverse workforce into the trades programs. 

They run a program called, Jill of all trades, which is a day where women can try different trades and talk with professionals in the industry to get a better understanding of the changing landscape of the workforce. 

“It's just a really high energy, fun day where they can get exposure to trying trades that they might not otherwise have. So just trying to talk about the opportunities that exist within skilled trade careers for women and how they can be successful in those careers,” said Moyer. 

Donna Reid is the city councillor for Ward 1 where the new campus is being built, she couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to grow the skilled trade industry in the city.

“I think this is amazing!” said Reid. “This trade school, I know they're making a huge push to kind of bring the trades back to not only the province, but the city of Cambridge as well, this will really bolster the industry in Cambridge.”

The City of Cambridge has been working with the College on multiple projects including a new soccer field that will be breaking ground next week. 

“We have always been very proud of Conestoga College and what they bring to the city by having the college here. It's great because it allows us to have people who can graduate from there and stay here and become part of our workforce,” Reid said.

The college is accepting applications for enrolment in new programs starting now and will be opening this fall. The classes available this September will be plumbing, electrical, machining and carpentry apprenticeship.

The other trades will follow in eight months until all of the trades are amalgamated at the Reuter campus in their multi-year plan. 

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