Report reaffirms need for new CNC campus

A recent report has underscored the need to replace the College of New Caledonia campus in Vanderhoof with a more robust facility

A recent report has underscored the longstanding need to replace the College of New Caledonia (CNC) campus in Vanderhoof.

“The CNC Vanderhoof existing campus building severely limits the diversity, scope and quantity of programs and services that can be provided,” according to a press release from the Nechako Valley Post Secondary Education Working Group.

The report, developed by the consulting company Yates, Thorn & Associates at the request of the working group, will be reviewed publicly at McLeod Elementary School on Jan. 24, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

“The report provides detailed demographics and community information in relation to the changing needs of education and skills training required to meet new labour market demands,” the press release says.

For some, the report simply authenticates what was already apparent: the CNC campus in Vanderhoof is under-equipped to train people for the surge of new resource development projects in northern B.C.

At a meeting organized by Vanderhoof council in May 2011, business, industry, education and First Nations representatives voiced their support of developing new facilities and training programs.

Almost 60 people attended the meeting, an enormous number by council’s standards, signaling an overwhelming interest to overhaul the CNC campus in Vanderhoof.

“These people came and said the community needs specialized training, especially for trades,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen.

In the following days, council appointed the working group to develop a plan with an overall objective of expanding post-secondary education in the region.

“Our main objective was to become the community synergy to create that momentum to direct the priority plan,” said Chair Gary Blattner.

Although it was never the working group’s intention to single out a new campus as the only solution, they had little choice, explained Blattner.

“Bricks and mortar isn’t always the answer,” he said.

“But it’s problematic because you can’t teach trades – welding, carpentry, plumping, millwright, etc. – in the existing (CNC) facility.”

In September 2012, Thiessen met with John Yap, Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology, to discuss the need for bolstering technical and trades training in Vanderhoof.

Thiessen told Yap that Vanderhoof has received only a small percentage of post-secondary education funding compared to the communities of Burns Lake, Fort St. James and Mackenzie, B.C.

“It’s of the utmost importance,” Thiessen said about the need for a larger, trades-oriented CNC campus in Vanderhoof.

“People who want to live in the Nechako Valley, for them to find post-secondary education in the trades, that’s going to allow industry to come here knowing that they have a stable workforce of young people, which will enable them to operate their businesses and industry here in the future.”

Blattner, the former regional director of the CNC campus in Fort St. James, said training programs expanded and economic growth occurred as a result of a new facility being built there in 2009.

“The excitement of the community was good to see, and that’s what I hope happens here,” he said.

Some of the need to expand post-secondary education in Vanderhoof stems from the Blackwater Project, a proposed open-pit mine about 110 kilometres southwest of Vanderhoof that is expected to create hundreds of jobs over some 17 years of mining operations.

“In order to provide as many opportunities for local residents as we can, there needs to be local training,” said Kathie LaForge, community manager for New Gold, the project’s owner.

Pending the approval of at least one environmental assessment, and the acquisition of permits, licenses and authorizations from government agencies and ministries, New Gold plans to start building the Blackwater mine in 2015, hiring 1,000 to 1,500 workers for construction.

In the meantime, New Gold is considering developing a skills gap analysis to determine the level of training in the area and what programs might be required to train workers for operations at Blackwater.

But because some apprenticeships and certification programs take between two and three years to complete, New Gold may have to start working with various area institutions sooner to make certain programs available, explained LaForge.

“I think that 2013 and 2014 both will be big years for looking at developing opportunities for training and contracting,” said LaForge.