Conestoga College is a driving force behind the growing number of skilled trades workers entering the workforce.
The college offers apprenticeship and post-secondary programs that feed the talent needs of manufacturing, tech and automotive businesses in our region. In 2022 alone, over 1,400 students graduated from a Conestoga College trades program, solidifying its position as one of Ontario’s largest skilled trades schools.
Their success continues with their new Skilled Trades Campus situated in Cambridge – one of the region’s three cities – that has garnered immense praise for its innovative learning environment and technology advancements.
To learn how Conestoga College’s trades programs can benefit local businesses, we spoke with Suzanne Moyer, the Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship.
Here’s what she told us:
Q: What trades programs does Conestoga currently offer?
Moyer: We have about 27 different full-time trades programs. In the industrial sector, programs include General Machinist, Tool and Die, CNC Machinist, Industrial Electrician as well as our Millwright, Electromechanical and Welding programs. In the construction area, we have programs in Plumbing, Electrical, Brick and Stone, Powerline Technician, HVAC, Carpentry and Renovation. Trades programs in the motive power sector include Automotive Technician, Truck and Coach Technician, Heavy Equipment Operator and Heavy Equipment Technician.
We also have a multi-trade program that incorporates four trades so students can sample different trades and see which one best suits them.
Q: How do these programs prepare students for the workforce?
Moyer: Conestoga College places a strong emphasis on experiential learning, with about 40-50% of classes taking place in the shop. This kind of hands-on experience allows students to build confidence and familiarity with tools and practices they’ll use once they enter the workforce.
Employers benefit from this type of learning because students come with the foundational skills and knowledge they need to begin work right away which saves them time on training.
Employers also recognize the level of commitment shown by students who are willing to invest one to two years of learning in their chosen trade.
Q: Diversity is important to today’s business leaders. How do Conestoga’s programs help diversify the skilled trades workforce?
Moyer: It’s not so much about how we design our programs but rather that the college itself is very welcoming. We have a very active student engagement program and work carefully to ensure that all students feel supported and a part of our community.
We’re continuously working to attract a broader range of students that may not normally have considered a career in the trades.
For example, we have a number of initiatives to attract women to skilled trades, including a women’s carpentry program which we’ve been running for over 20 years and a Jill of All Trades program, which gives young women in grades 9-12 the opportunity to explore different trades they may want to consider for a career.
Additionally, in our pre-apprenticeship programs, we work with various community groups to advertise program openings to attract a diverse range of applicants, including Indigenous students, newcomers to Canada, persons with disabilities, persons of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We also provide academic upgrading so individuals with academic barriers to our post-secondary programs have a pathway into trades training.
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Q: How does the college update its programs to fit with the latest industry trends and technologies?
Moyer: We have Program Advisory Committees that are made up of industry partners (or employers). These committees meet at least twice a year and provide input on new industry trends and technologies. Staying up to date with what’s happening in the industry helps us ensure students graduate with current skills.
We have a lot of new technologies at the college – including robotics equipment, our recently outfitted pneumatic and hydraulic lab, and our new PLC lab, just to name a few.
Q: How does the apprenticeship program work?
Moyer: Conestoga College facilitates the apprenticeship process, with about 90% of training on the job and 10% in-school. Apprenticeships generally take 3-4 years to complete and include multiple levels of schooling.
Through this model, individuals acquire practical skills while earning a living, benefiting both apprentices and employers. The structured system ensures apprentices receive thorough training in their chosen trade, leading to a trade license recognized across Canada.
" Staying up to date with what’s happening in the industry helps us ensure students graduate with current skills. "
Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship, Conestoga College
Q: Besides trades programs, what other programs might be appealing for manufacturing companies in the region?
Moyer: The college has a broad range of programs that appeal to manufacturers. We have numerous accredited engineering programs including Electrical Engineering, Welding, Engineering Technician and Process Quality Engineering. Our IT programs include Network Security, Computer Programming and Digital Solutions Management. In the business field, we have programs in Finance, Accounting, Human Resources, Supply Chain Management, Marketing and Communications.
Building the next generation of skilled trades talent
Conestoga College is one of three post-secondary institutions that are developing the next generation of talent in Waterloo. Along with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga offers a variety of robust, industry-inspired programs that prepare graduates for careers in a variety of industries.
If your business needs access to a high concentration of up-and-coming talent, Waterloo may be the place for you.