Wider Horizons

silhouetted workerCarpenters, welders, electricians, interior designers, environmental scientists, engineering drafters, business and communications experts, office administrators: you’d wonder what these diverse workers would have in common beyond achieving their education at Lethbridge College.

Yet, the new student residence being built at Lethbridge College serves as a microcosm of many of the disciplines taught in classrooms only metres away. As it moves to completion this fall, it demonstrates, in all its phases, the diversity and variety of college education, from design, through construction, to operation.

As each new generation takes up its trade, it is required to be more technologically savvy. The auto industry is perhaps the best example: new vehicles increasingly rely on on-board computers to run their systems. Understanding the workings of an internal combustion engine now goes hand-in-hand with knowledge of computer chips.

This marriage of trade and tech is forging a new direction for institutions such as Lethbridge College, still the go-to source for skilled employees in a myriad of careers. It is drawing closer fields of learning that once occupied opposite ends of the educational spectrum to a place where pocket protectors and overalls are not out of place in the same room.

As this convergence increases, Lethbridge College is retooling to meet the demands of an emerging world, to create “super grads” who can speak the language of their individual trades in a dialect tinged with technology.

Still, the trades remain very much a hands-on, human activity, evident daily on the residence construction site.

Every bolt, girder and window used in the residence has been made by someone somewhere, and installed by someone else.

In reality, says Chris Eagan, Lethbridge College’s facilities director, the project has no material costs, only labour, because every element of the building involves human hands in some fashion, even the gravel used in the concrete.

“Colleges train people how to do things and the residence is a thing being designed, constructed and run by people,” says Chris Eagan, Lethbridge College’s director of Facilities Management. In the end, it’s always people who make things happen.”

As Eagan notes, roughly 45 per cent of the building’s $11.5-million price tag is for labour, involving those who shape, mould and fashion each aspect of the project. They are involved in every sector of society, getting things done through skill, knowledge and effort. Much of their work is done away from the spotlight, and without a lot of fanfare.

“We think differently in North America,” says Eagan. “In Europe, if you work with your hands, you’re considered an artisan and revered.”

Eagan says the North American culture places more emphasis on achieving success through white-collar careers, but for every banker or lawyer, society needs 10 people who are skilled in making things with their hands.

While the residence is a showcase for the trades training and apprenticeships taught at Lethbridge College, it’s also an indication of the need for such training, even in a recessionary period. Eagan admits those thinking about training will always have a decision to make: when the economy is booming, do they spend time and money on education when unskilled jobs are paying $34 an hour in places such as Fort McMurray, or do they wait until times have flat-lined to return to school when they might not have the financial resources?

In Alberta, the choice is made somewhat easier by the desperate need for skilled labour.

“The correct answer is take the job in the hot times and save money for an education in the cold times,” says Eagan. “But, in Alberta, there is a deficit of 30,000 trades people now and it’s expected to grow to 55,000 in 10 years. Even in this recession, while there have been layoffs, those left on the job are going full steam ahead. My advice is there is never a bad time to get into the trades.”

Through apprenticeships come accreditation and standards, the hallmarks of trades in Canada. A lack of education is one of society’s main limitations to earning a decent wage in a viable career.

“Anyone can have a lifelong career in a trade, earning a reasonable, middle-class living and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle,” says Eagan. “It’s a career with instant gratification: you see the results of your work immediately.”

The project, while certainly not the largest in the city’s history, will ultimately have significant impact on the local economy. It was designed here, many of the trades people employed live here, and those who come from elsewhere provide a stimulus to local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, car rentals and gas bars. When it opens, the students who occupy its 109 rooms will spend money in the community, extending the value for years to come.

 Tips of the Trade -Home Renovations

We’re fixing up our residence; here’s how you can fix up yours.

Home renovations can be akin to rocket science, a subject not taught at Lethbridge College. However, Cal Whitehead, chair of the college’s construction trades, knows the frustrations and pitfalls of fixing up a home and how to avoid them. Here are his five elements of a comprehensive plan:

  1. Bylaws and permits. Building bylaws tell you what you’re allowed to do (size, location, setbacks, architectural controls, etc.) Determine if your project requires permits.

  2. Budget. Determine what you can afford and what renovations will give you the best value for your dollar. Ensure the value you’re putting into the renovation can be recovered if you sell; don’t overvalue your property when it’s compared to the neighbourhood. Proceed in stages you can afford. Get the quality you want, not just quantity.

  3. Size and scope. Determine what design is required for space and the type of finish you require before having a draftsperson draw up a working plan. This will save time and money.

  4. Contractors. Determine what work, if any, you will attempt yourself. When hiring a contractor, find one who will work with you. When obtaining quotes, find a minimum of three contractors you think you could work with. Quotes will vary; ensure they are fair. The contractor must be approachable, reliable, communicative and professional to ensure your renovation will be a pleasant experience. Once you are satisfied, a contract can be drawn up. Remember to include a payment schedule listing how much, if any, will be paid upfront. Never be muscled into paying for something you are not satisfied with. A plan detailing styles and colours of every detail is important.

  5. Timelines and safety. Determine the best time for your renovation. Weather plays a role in exterior renovations. If you plan to live in the home during the renovation, ensure you have alternate cooking, bathroom and laundry facilities. If entrances will be closed off, ensure you have an escape route in an emergency. Set a start date and a tentative completion date and monitor your project to avoid unpleasant time overruns.
Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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