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Among Loyalist College’s goals are helping industry partners adjust to the demands of automation and training students on cutting-edge technology, like in applied research and mechatronics.Supplied

It’s a feeling common in many rural communities across the country: unprecedented change.

Nestled on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, the Bay of Quinte is one rural region experiencing rapid growth and development. Spurred by the pandemic and a shifting economic landscape, the population of Belleville alone has increased by 8.6 per cent since 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in Eastern Ontario.

To sustain this growth, small communities need big vision to manage their social, economic and industrial transformation. In the Bay of Quinte, Loyalist College has become an essential anchor for the region’s evolution, supporting workforce development, attracting more facilities in advanced manufacturing, and assisting companies to adopt emerging technologies.

“More people are moving here from bigger cities, drawn to the quality of life in a smaller community, industry investments are increasing, and tourism is booming again,” says Hon. Todd Smith, MPP for the Bay of Quinte and Ontario’s Minister of Energy. Minister Smith came from New Brunswick 30 years ago to attend Loyalist College and graduated from its Broadcasting program.

We’re always looking ahead and adjusting our focus to ensure our programs match emerging industry needs and align to the ‘jobs of the future.’

Mark Kirkpatrick, Acting President, Loyalist College

“Companies locating and expanding here need access to a skilled talent pool, and that’s why it’s so valuable to have Loyalist College here to help the community fill all the positions that will be necessary,” says Minister Smith. “Although it’s a small college, it has always been very nimble in developing new programs to meet local employers’ requirements.”

Minister Smith says, in addition to bolstering the technology workforce, the college is helping to meet the need for skilled tradespeople to build more housing and other infrastructure, and for more health-care workers for hospitals and long-term care.

“Companies planning to set up in our region no doubt recognize the value of having a college that is contributing to the community’s success. Loyalist College will continue to be integral to the growth and evolution of the Quinte area,” he says.

Loyalist College is one of the smallest publicly assisted colleges in Ontario, but it prides itself on punching above its weight and seeing the big picture for the communities that it serves, championing social innovation and training the workforce to adjust to the demands of automation.

Technically trained, skilled employees are hard to find in the current labour market. Creating an educated workforce will boost the strength of the region’s robust manufacturing community.

Henry Vandelinde, Mechatronics Business Developer, Siemens Canada.

Loyalist’s big ambition is also clear when you consider its applied research prowess: the college is ranked among Canada’s Top 50 research colleges and number 4 in Canada for Research Income Growth by Research Infosource Inc. As a recent signatory of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Accord, the college is using its applied research expertise to help local business become more sustainable.

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“Our small size allows us to have a more strategic and targeted impact,” says Mark Kirkpatrick, acting president of Loyalist College. “We’re always looking ahead and adjusting our focus to ensure our programs match emerging industry needs and align to the ‘jobs of the future.’ This responsiveness allows us to keep our community growing, our local industries healthy and our graduates working at the forefront of their fields.”

Shaping a skilled local workforce

From food processing to auto parts and aerospace, manufacturing is a key economic driver in the Greater Bay of Quinte region.

In 2018, faced with the challenges of recruiting talent to keep up with technological advancements and rapid industry changes, the Quinte Manufacturers Association (QMA) reached out to its long-time education partner, Loyalist College, to support new training needs in the region.

Loyalist answered the call by developing an agreement with multinational technology company Siemens to offer Level One and Level Two Mechatronics Systems certification based on Siemens’s globally recognized program. The program launched at the college in the fall of 2021.

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Situated approximately two hours east of Toronto, Loyalist College’s beautifully wooded 200-acre campus lies within easy reach of amenities.Supplied

“All respect to Loyalist College for responding to community needs and for investing in the machinery and the training of faculty to deliver this vital program that will help build a qualified, local workforce,” says Henry Vandelinde, mechatronics business developer with Siemens Canada.

“Mechatronics is key to advanced manufacturing today,” he says. “In this era of automation and the building of products with complex systems, employees need to understand mechanical and electrical engineering, robotics, computer software technologies and systems theory – which mechatronics encompasses.

“Gaining the Siemens certification can prepare people to work in a broad range of manufacturing jobs, including as operators, production engineers, test engineers and more,” Dr. Vandelinde adds. “Technically trained, skilled employees are hard to find in the current labour market. Creating an educated workforce will boost the strength of the region’s robust manufacturing community.”

Opening doors to social innovation

Alongside supporting economic innovation in the region, Loyalist’s commitment to building healthy, resilient communities includes a strong focus on social innovation.

Home Share Loyalist College is an alternative housing model that promotes intergenerational living for Loyalist students (primarily international students) and adults 55 years of age and older in the region. Set to be launched on National Seniors Day, October 1, 2022, Home Share is designed to generate a multitude of benefits in response to shifting demographics and community needs.

“The program is helping older adults age in place, addressing housing issues for both older adults and students, and fostering intergenerational companionship to reduce social isolation and increase a sense of belonging for seniors and students,” says Dr. Kim Bergeron, a healthy aging researcher and principal investigator for the program out of Loyalist’s Applied Research and Innovation Office.

The college’s social service worker students also benefit, as they gain valuable real-world experience in program development to lead social change.

“Ours is the only social service worker program to involve students in the planning, implementation and evaluation of a community-based college program of this kind,” says Dr. Bergeron. “And we’re the first to use a health-equity perspective from the earliest stages, where all decisions are inclusive and designed to avoid widening the health gap between populations.”

The program is supported by a social innovation grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and involves community partners in community health, public health, housing and immigration services. The first co-habitation arrangements are expected to be in place early in 2023.

“Core to our college culture, and how we operate, is our caring, close-knit community,” says Mr. Kirkpatrick. “From students to faculty and staff, the team at Loyalist works closely with our industry and community partners to identify new, innovative ways to develop and deliver work-integrated learning opportunities that solve real-world problems and make a difference in people’s lives.”

As communities continue to seek a competitive edge in their growth strategy, they will continue to grapple with the significant challenges of social, economic and technological transformation accelerated through the pandemic. In this new landscape, small communities – and colleges – that adopt a big vision are set to lead.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.