In 2016, Trans Mountain donated $400,000 to the Coastal Skills Initiative at Camosun’s Interurban campus on Vancouver Island. The funds helped support a dedicated space to house the program, as well as support student bursaries. This contribution was, and still is, the largest to date in support of the program. Through Trans Mountain’s donation, the Coastal Skills Initiative has been able to grow its programs and support more women and Indigenous people entering Red Seal trades.

The Coastal Skills Initiative identifies emerging issues, trends and opportunities and links them directly to a range of skilled trades programs at Camosun with an enhanced coastal perspective. Trans Mountain’s support has helped the college ensure that the evolving needs of specific industries and communities in the province’s coastal regions are met, both today and in the future. The focus of Coastal Skills aligns with industry’s needs to add perspective and skills for careers that support marine infrastructure, marine transportation, forestry, fishing, mining, energy and construction in coastal communities.

We sat down virtually with Olaf Nielson, Chair, Trades Development & Special Projects at Camosun, Coastal Skills Initiative to learn more about the program and what’s happening in the industry.

What makes the Coastal Skills Initiative, and Camosun, unique?

Camosun is a strong community. Our location is key and it’s strategic. In Victoria, we have a larger shipbuilding industry with all of the major players and it lends itself to our programs. We also have the most diverse trades programs through the lens of innovation, such as practitioner, traders, health and human services.

The Coastal Skills Initiative has a multi-tiered educational approach. Many of Camosun’s Nautical/Marine training programs are regulated by Transport Canada such as Bridge Watch rating (BWR). We also provide very specialized training in marine, marine shipbuilding and repair and marine Red Seal trades. Innovation is a key piece that makes the Coastal Skills Initiative unique.

We are known in British Columbia for our K-12 South Island Partnership (SIP) programs, in which we have dedicated relationships with five school districts and relationships with the schools. Our goal is to get youth into post-secondary education/training in support of their K-12 graduation requirements. Through the K-12 programs, students are exposed to different career paths and can try different career options through the dual credit and post-secondary credit programs. It’s really a game changer for students to try these different paths, experience our Red Seal trades early and see what interests them.

What are the growing trends and challenges within the industry?

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen significant changes in the industry, especially related to women in trades and Indigenous people receiving their Red Seal designation in trades. We have worked hard to eliminate those barriers of entry and we will continue to push.

We are starting to push the needle. Historically, in Red Seal trades, women and Indigenous people were around five per cent of the workforce. By providing access and changing the culture through addressing workplace dynamics and creating a place of inclusivity, we have seen that number grow to roughly 15 per cent in our local region. It’s a growing trend, and it’s because we have taken a more holistic approach to learning and culture change.

Trans Mountain’s donation has helped us push that needle even further. It’s given us more space to hold programs and allowed more students to utilize the bursaries and scholarship programs.

One of the biggest challenges we have is the aging population. Many organizations are feeling this. We are almost at the apex of the impact for some sectors, but that wave will continue for a number of years. This is why our K-12 outreach is so important, and why it’s a very unique approach to attracting prospective and future students. It helps young people become aware of our Red Seal program trades and exposes them to a wide variety of career paths.

How has COVID-19 changed the way your programs are delivered?

Obviously COVID-19 has had a big impact on everything and to people everywhere. For us at Camosun, we have moved to a blended learning style. We have smaller class sizes and are learning how to deliver hands-on/applied skills in a new COVID world. We are also learning what’s working and what’s not working. For an apprenticeship training, it’s hard to learn how to use a hammer virtually. So, finding the right mix of vertical learning and doing it safely is really what we are focusing on.

More information on Camosun’s Coastal Skills Initiative can be found here.