Nolinor Aviation aircraft technician Mathieu Laboeuf is living his dream, discovering new places and travelling to remote locations to help ensure pilot and passenger safety.
The gateway to his adventurous, rewarding career was École Nationale d'Aérotechnique in Quebec, from which Mr. Laboeuf graduated in 2011. Affiliated with Collège Édouard-Montpetit, the school is the largest college-level aeronautical educational institute in Canada.
Aviation technology was also a practical career choice for Mr. Laboeuf: the aerospace industry in the greater Montreal area creates average annual revenues of $12 billion and has grown by almost six per cent per year since 1990 despite recessions and currency headwinds.
Quebec's aerospace sector is a success story the province of Ontario is eager to replicate, starting with its investment of up to $26 million in an expansion of Centennial College's aviation program. Centennial's strong relationship with nearby Bombardier Aerospace resulted in an invitation to join the manufacturer at Downsview, where the college's aviation programs will be relocated.
The move is the first step in the establishment of the Downsview Park Aerospace Innovation and Research Hub, which will also include the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies and an innovation zone. Currently, a group of industry and academia leaders is working towards the realization of the hub.
For students, the Downsview Centennial campus will mean being able to walk across a runway into a facility where 4,000 people are building the latest planes, says Andrew Petrou, Centennial's special projects officer.
Centennial is also in discussion with Ryerson University to expand career pathways by enabling students to either move between college and university programs or enroll in new joint programs. "It's not a matter of saying, 'I went to college and now I'm going to university,' but of taking the first theoretical class with a Ryerson professor, for example, and the second at Centennial, learning more hands-on skills," Mr. Petrou explains.
Innovative partnership models mean that colleges such as Centennial become career and innovation portals, says Mr. Petrou. In this case, he adds, "it puts the Centennial student on the leading edge, but it also benefits other institutions – we're part of an aerospace ecosystem that will allow Canada to continue to compete on a global scale."
Across Canada, colleges and technical institutes are initiating similar multi-sector partnerships designed to bridge the gap described by educators as "people without jobs; jobs without people."
At stake, says Robert Luke, George Brown College's vice president of research and innovation, is the future productivity and prosperity of the country. He notes that the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters estimate that Canada will have 1.3 million skilled labour jobs sitting vacant by 2016. But at the same time, he says, "youth are largely shut out of Ontario's slow economic recovery, with youth unemployment at around 17 per cent in 2013."
This "skills mismatch affects purchasing power and the ability of companies to grow and innovate," says Dr. Luke. "It creates a functional malaise in industry and prevents industry from investing in increasing productivity."
The Angelo Del Zotto School of Construction Management at George Brown exemplifies the way that colleges and industry can work together to address these problems, he says. The construction management program was created in response to the industry's call for "the next generation in construction managers;" students graduating from apprenticeship and diploma programs can now transfer into the degree program. "It's an investment that continues to deliver positive returns, because the graduates that come out of that program each year are immediately snapped up by industry," reports Dr. Luke.
Another example is the college's Green Building Centre, built with funding from the federal and provincial governments and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. One Ontario company, Garden Connections, worked with students and faculty in the centre's building information modelling lab to create 3D renderings of balcony spaces in high rises so realistic and detailed that they are mistaken for photographs. "It's a key advantage that has led to really an entirely new line of business for this company, and because their business is taking off as a result, they've hired our students," says Dr. Luke.
In the aim of further strengthening the ties between industry and education, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) recently launched a coalition of leading industry and labour organizations to identify solutions to Canada's current skills challenges.
"Business and research partnerships with public colleges and institutes lead to economic growth and employment opportunities across Canada every day," says ACCC president and CEO Denise Amyot, who will co-chair the coalition. "Our economy and the members of our coalition partners depend on Canadians with advanced skills to innovate and grow their businesses."