NAIT evolves to meet industry demands

NAIT’s new Melton Crane and Hoisting Building is just one step the school has taken to set its students up for success

by Jillian Clark
A female student is wearing a hard hat in front of a crane.

NAIT opened the new Melton Crane and Hoisting Building to help students get a better education. — Photo courtesy NAIT

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) recently opened its new Melton Crane and Hoisting Building at the Spruce Grove Campus to meet the demand of the construction and energy industries. The Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator program is just one of 33 offered at NAIT’s School of Skilled Trades.

The original Crane and Hoisting program capacity of approximately 275 students was not enough to meet the demand of about 500 new workers from the Alberta government. The school had no choice but to expand so it first moved to a temporary space, but the program quickly outgrew that as well.

“We couldn’t expand to meet the demand for apprenticeship training,” said Malcolm Haines, dean of the School of Skilled Trades. “I started to seriously look for a permanent home for a program that could handle any growth needs for the next 25 to 50 years.”

The Crane and Hoisting program landed on the Spruce Grove property, a six-hectare site complete with top-of-the-line equipment, simulation technology and qualified instructors with advanced industry experience. The new facility has increased the program capacity by 80 per cent.

Second-to-none student experience

All apprentice programs at the School of Skilled Trades are split equally between practice and theory. Students spend half of their days learning in a classroom setting and the other half gaining hands-on experience with the equipment, either outside or with simulators.

“But that’s not always operating the equipment,” said Haines. “Sometimes they are rigging a load. Sometimes they are doing calculations for when their load comes up. Often, they are signalling as well. Just like they would on a real job site, they assume a lot of roles.”

Each student graduates with the know-how to land a career in his or her industry.

Aside from the facilities at NAIT, the teaching staff sets the school apart yet again—they all come from industry. “They are all at the top of their game, and they come to us to pass that knowledge onto our students,” Haines said.

NAIT ensures the relevancy of its curriculum

In terms of curriculum, NAIT’s programs are annually reassessed by an advisory committee to meet industry needs. “We are aligned with what they are doing in industry,” said Stewart Cook, dean of the School of Applied Sciences and Technology. They ask about trends, new methods and technology, so their students smoothly integrate into the workforce after graduation.

“We are also uniquely positioned in terms of where the work is that these students will be doing,” said Haines of NAIT’s location in Edmonton. “When the crane and hoisting industry is hot, Northern Alberta is the hotbed for that.”

Many of the School of Skilled Trades’ other programs are also invested in the energy sector. Haines’ school produces welders, steamfitters and pipefitters, heavy equipment operators, machinists and millwrights, among others.

Separately, the School of Applied Sciences and Technology offers 44 programs, many of which connect to careers in mining and energy. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, wireless systems engineering, petroleum engineering, geology, water and wastewater technology, and power engineering are a handful of the options.

Shifting with the energy landscape

Haines is positive that all signs show Canada will see a turnaround in the mining and energy industries. “The situation that we face is there are so many licensed journey people out of work, that before we see an uptake on the apprentice side, we will first see those people employed again.”

However, this workforce is aging. Haines predicts they won’t be in the industry for the next five, 10 or 15 years. The Crane and Hoisting program takes three years to complete. When times are booming, it is nearly impossible to get students through the program fast enough.

“We need to replace those people,” he said. Now is the perfect time. “Training is more important now than ever.”

The School of Applied Sciences and Technology has seen a different sort of shift—one towards training in alternative energy sources. Cook’s faculty is evolving to follow the shift towards sustainability.

“We are as much in tune with the industry as we possible can be,” he said. “Remaining relevant is key to us so that our students can find jobs.”

NAIT is prepared for Alberta’s upcoming surge of jobs. While the industry might be down, it must go back up. NAIT hopes to train the next generation of skilled workers in time for the next boom.

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