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Durham College is creating a comprehensive strategy for addressing the two different types of skills gaps: one in the trades and the other in the sectors that are being created by the emerging economy.Supplied

From carpenters to welders and AI engineers to video game content creators, workers with specialized skills are in increasingly great demand across the country, particularly in fast-growing regions and in emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence and esports.

The leaders at Durham College see this trend in their own backyard. Located just east of Toronto, the Durham Region expects to see its population grow over the next two decades from about 683,000 to 1.2 million people. Durham is in the midst of a building boom, with billions of dollars’ worth of residential, commercial and transportation infrastructure projects in the works.

“Companies of all sizes are talking about the need for skilled workers,” says Don Lovisa, president of Durham College, which has campuses in Oshawa and Whitby, and a learning site in Pickering. “We’ve reviewed the workforce shortages Canada-wide, provincewide and at the local level. Based on feedback and requests from the various sectors, we’ve introduced new programs and continue to expand our training capacity for key roles such as millwright, elevator mechanic, power crane operator, electrician and plumbing.”

Recent skilled trade initiatives include a partnership with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Ontario Power Generation that saw the college deliver boilermaking training to 93 students. Durham College has also started hosting one-day conferences to introduce Grades 7 and 8 female students to various trade occupations.

“Throughout the day, they go from one mini workshop to the next that give them exposure to what the different trades do,” says Dr. Elaine Popp, VP, academic at Durham College. “They get to experience holding tools in their hands and seeing what a carpenter or an electrical engineer actually does.”

Last year, Durham College announced a $35-million expansion of its Whitby campus that will double the number of seats in its industrial skilled trades programs. At the same time, the college has launched programs to address the skills gap in emerging technology sectors. Today, Durham College students can earn a degree, diploma or certificate in such advanced technology programs as artificial intelligence analysis, design and implementation, cybersecurity, esport business management or health care technology management.

“We work to ensure we have a comprehensive strategy for addressing the two different types of skills gaps: one in the trades and the other in the sectors that are being created by the emerging economy and that will require people with the right skills,” says Dr. Popp.

As part of this strategy, the Durham College Hub for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence for Business Solutions – or the AI Hub for short – opened its doors in December 2017 to small and medium-sized enterprises looking for technical expertise and state-of-the-art research facilities to develop automation- and AI-based business solutions.

Durham College also launched an esports facility last fall as a learning and gathering space for esports students and gamers.

Ongoing dialogue and partnerships with industry are critical to ensuring Durham College continues to innovate and deliver training that prepares students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, says Mr. Lovisa.

“We’re working with industry to not just help shape our programs but also to help them understand emerging technologies and to collaborate on solutions to their business problems,” he says. “For our students, these collaborations can open the door to career opportunities. Companies will often hire our students knowing they have the skills and knowledge their business needs.”

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