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NLAC aims to improve local opportunities

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Jim Drennan

Jim Drennan

NORTHUMBERLAND - 

As far as Drew Macklin is concerned, it’s a simple matter of cause and effect.

Communities without post-secondary education do worse on the whole, the Linmac Inc. vice-president said recently. And communities with it do better.

This was a strong motivation for Macklin, as he worked with his father Hugh Macklin (president of Linmac) and retired Sir Sandford Fleming College Dean for Justice and Business Studies Jim Drennan to get the Northumberland Learning Advisory Committee started in 2015.

The coalition involves partners gathering regularly to look at training, education and development throughout the county — Drennan, the Macklins, municipal staffers, elected officials, plus representatives of various sectors of the economy and such disciplines as health care and emergency services, as well as representatives from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Loyalist College, Sir Sandford Fleming College and Durham College. The province is also represented through Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi.

Their input gives feedback to the schools, Drennan said, with the hope it may influence their decisions at a time when they are conscious of every dollar spent.

And though he’s heard of similar American projects, Drennan believes this is the only body of its kind in Canada.

For Hugh Macklin, another spur for establishing the forum was the dwindling opportunities offered by Fleming at their Cobourg site — in a Linmac building.

“They are tenants of ours, and have been for almost 30 years in that building — which was built and named for them,” Macklin pointed out.

“They have, over the years, had issues back and forth, trying to get education going in full-time programs. They had a police program operating there, massage therapy, esthetician.

“There have been challenges over the years. We worked with them to try to make it as successful as possible,” he stated.

When Drennan retired, he and Macklin conferred.

“I said, ‘We need to work together. You, with all the inside information, and I, with some contacts locally, I hope we can encourage more education within the community and keep it within the community,’” Macklin recalled.

The potential benefits could not only include training that situates students for today’s economy, but employment opportunities with the educational initiatives themselves.

His son Drew was eager to get on board.

“I have a background in teaching. I did it for a few years before I came here, and my grandfather was a professor as well. So our family has ties to the educational system, and we feel it’s vital to have post-secondary education in the community,” he said.

All three were at the committee’s January meeting, which was also attended by representatives of all four schools, small-business owners, representatives of local training agencies, volunteers, plus several municipal representatives. Among that group were Cobourg Deputy Mayor John Henderson, Northumberland County chief administrative office Jennifer Moore and Northumberland director of economic development and tourism Dan Borowec — to whom Drennan was handing over the reins as chair.

Much of the meeting involved post-secondary training and educational initiatives, some of which could be available to Northumberland residents.

Cobourg-based Community Training and Development Centre community education officer Madeleine Currelly has been in contact with someone from Western University who (like her) won a Global Best Award. Currelly’s award was for youth-employment programming, her acquaintance having won for innovation in dealing with seniors and housing.

“I said, ‘Let’s work together and do a project from two demographics that speaks to the needs of seniors,’ because almost 50% of the population is over the age of 55 and we have a lot of outmigration of youth,” Currelly said.

Though she is currently looking for funding for the project, it will begin without funding. She has reached an agreement with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board to begin a research study at Cobourg Collegiate Institute in February.

Chuck O’malley spoke of the Elevate program at Loyalist, which — after seven Elevate cohorts completing the program — has evolved into an initiative called Elevate Plus.

Three pilot projects are taking place in Ontario, two (having to do with the construction and hospitality industries) in Toronto and one (having to do with manufacturing) in the Quinte West area.

“We have a series of six-week pre-employment programs with the curriculum designed by employers, a fast-track program designed to get folks right into work,” O’malley said.

All graduates from the first group have found full-time employment. A second group will wrap up in February, and a third begins in April.

“We work hard to engage the community, because it won’t happen without collaboration and community participation.

“And the positive part is, that adds value for the employers. We are also advocating on behalf of the employers, so it’s a balance of needs,” O’malley said.

“We have resources to help with post-employment and post-program support. We go in and help with any wrap-around support on-going for six or eight or 10 weeks, and develop a mentoring and coaching program for the employers who want to participate, free of charge.”

They estimate their success rate at 95%, he said.

The program is tuition-free and has largely concentrated on the food-processing sector. Anyone aged 18 to 70 who wants to work is eligible.

“The only way it can work is if we have employer partners who are hiring and right now, in Quinte West, we have a lot.”

There has been discussion about running one of these programs in Northumberland County as an outreach initiative to align with local manufacturers.

“We are excited to be partners with Dan and his crew, and the entire community, to see if this works — if the participation and collaboration yields the results we are looking for,” O’malley said.

Henderson said Cobourg expects to welcome a major food-manufacturing-related employer this spring, and is already home to a a food-processing operation that won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2014.

“Because they are going great guns, they can’t keep up with the demand,” Henderson said.

The committee also got a look at a project being undertaken by two third-year students in the Fleming College School of Business marketing program, a charter to support efforts to identify new marketing opportunities in support of training, education and development in Northumberland County.

“One of the things we are seeing now is the information we individually would not become aware of, in many cases,” Drennan said.

“We are really excited to be around the table,” Matthew MacKenzie of University of Ontario Institute of Technology said.

“Northumberland is very important to us, and whatever we can do to support that collaboration we want to do. We hope we can find some really great ways for us to do that.”

Jonathan Brown, a retired Ontario Ministry of Education employee attending his first meeting as a volunteer, pointed out that the majority of students these institutions are seeing are probably not the stereotypical just-out-of-high-school post-secondary students. They have postponed higher education, worked, discovered that they need something more.

“There isn’t a group like this out there promoting training, education and development in the sense that we are,” Drennan said.

“In some ways, it becomes an economic-development tool in terms of business attraction,” Borowec noted.

“We are probably starting to move towards having an entity that is community-driven that supports educational partnerships and training initiatives.

“Having a conversation with interested investors has a lot more credibility when they see there is an entity where the community supports a joint education endeavour. It carries a great deal of credibility and becomes a resource,” Borowec commented.

“There are four educational institutions at the table, as well as community training and development. It represents every level of training, as well as academic advancement. It’s significant.”

“I have always believed that one way to build increased opportunity for learning is to ensure there is a strong advocacy voice founded in community membership. That is why Hugh and I started the NLAC group, not knowing where it would go or if it would be supported,” Drennan said.

“It was, in a great way, and now all the players are at the table — something that likely would not have happened if NLAC did not exist.

cnasmith@postmedia.com

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