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Centennial College students get to work on a fully operational Bombardier Global 7500 business jet to gain real-world experience.SUPPLIED

The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed the growth of the global aerospace sector, but that shouldn’t mean Canadian companies can sit back and wait for a recovery before considering what to do about the industry’s looming skills shortage, says Andrew Petrou, director, strategic initiatives & external relations at Toronto’s Centennial College, and Chairman of the Board, Downsview Aerospace Innovation & Research (DAIR), a not-for-profit whose vision is to build a world-leading aerospace innovation hub in the heart of Toronto, Ontario.

With its aerospace programs now located at the Downsview campus, which has repurposed a historic de Havilland building to create new classrooms, labs and workshops, along with two aircraft hangars, the college is firmly focused on reducing the skills gap that could hamper industry growth.

“A big challenge facing Canada’s aerospace sector is the aging workforce,” says Mr. Petrou. “There has been no meaningful succession planning or real understanding of the diverse range of talent that will be needed to fill future demand for skilled workers as the global industry expands rapidly in the face of growing demand for air travel.”

He acknowledges that the economic impact of COVID-19 has slowed the demand for aerospace workers but believes it’s temporary.

“If we don’t continue to feed the pipeline, even though, right now, we are experiencing a mass slow- down, when that switch flips and travel starts to rise again and the aging workforce is even closer to retirement, we will have a big skills gap and no pipeline to fill it,” says Mr. Petrou. “We need to keep training and be prepared to replace that aging workforce – and replace it not only with younger talent but also with talent that is more diverse and highly skilled.”

He adds that Centennial College’s approach, backed by 40 years of skills training for the aerospace sector, has been to partner with key players in the industry, such as Bombardier, and to relocate its aerospace training to its own campus at Downsview.

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"There has been no meaningful succession planning or real understanding of the diverse range of talent that will be needed" - Andrew Petrou, Director, Strategic Initiatives & External Relations, Centennial CollegeSUPPLIED

“We have also expanded our programming to include aerospace manufacturing, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), composite materials … the list goes on and on,” says Mr. Petrou.

Through its partnership with Bombardier, the college has acquired a fully operational Global 7500 business jet for students to gain real-world experience in working on an operational aircraft and truly understand the complex technology that goes into it, he adds.

The evolution of the college’s aerospace program means it has moved from a situation where it was short of enrolments to a wait list of students wanting to get in, says Mr. Petrou.

The college is a founding member of Downsview Aerospace Innovation & Research, a consortium of academic and industry partners including Ryerson University, York University and the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), leading companies such as Bombardier, Safran and MHI Canada Aerospace Inc.

“We realized we all need to come together to collaborate and innovate so that we can build a strong and sustainable future for the sector,” says Mr. Petrou.

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Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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