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Stelco commits $182G to welding education

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Students at Assumption College in Brantford made this plaque to thank Stelco in Nanticoke for donating $182,000 to upgrade welding education programs at local Catholic and public high schools. Among those in the Nanticoke Industrial Park Wednesday for the unveiling were Allison Hayes, principal of Assumption College, and Rob Malcolm, principal at Waterford District High School. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Students at Assumption College in Brantford made this plaque to thank Stelco in Nanticoke for donating $182,000 to upgrade welding education programs at local Catholic and public high schools. Among those in the Nanticoke Industrial Park Wednesday for the unveiling were Allison Hayes, principal of Assumption College, and Rob Malcolm, principal at Waterford District High School. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

NANTICOKE - 

Stelco in Nanticoke has 27 qualified welders on staff.

The steelmaker would like to double that, but welders aren’t exactly breaking down the door.

The story is similar for industries across Canada and around the world. Government isn’t solving industry’s skill shortage so Stelco has accepted that it has to do something to fix it itself.

To that end, Stelco on Wednesday announced $182,000 in funding for welding programs at five Catholic and public high schools in Norfolk, Haldimand and Brantford. The steelmaker handed over the cheque to the CWB Welding Foundation at an event at the United Steelworkers hall in the Nanticoke Industrial Park.

“Through this contribution, more students will have access to improved equipment and have greater opportunity to explore the potential of a future career in the skilled trades,” Jack DiCosimo, vice president of Stelco operations, said.

“We view this as a win-win. Stelco will have sufficient skilled people to build and maintain our facilities. In return, these people will enjoy the pride that comes with a challenging, interesting and well-paying career.”

The cash will be used to buy new welding equipment and up-to-date protective helmets, clothing and gloves. Schools in line for the upgrade include Waterford District High School, Cayuga Secondary School, Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School in Brantford, Assumption College in Brantford, and Brantford Collegiate Institute.

Local 8782 of the United Steelworkers recognizes that a chronic, across-the-board skills shortage threatens the long-term viability of manufacturing facilities such as the steel plant in Nanticoke. Stelco found the money after hearing about the state of skills training at area high schools.

In the 1960s, welding was a popular option for boys at WDHS who were streamed into the two-year occupational program. On Wednesday, WDHS principal Rob Malcolm said his school is down to a single welding booth dating to the 1980s.

It’s the same story at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School in Brantford. There, students are learning to weld on equipment that is 50 years old.

“Our plant has a great future,” says Frederick Sebring, co-chair of Local 8782’s trades training committee.

“But for that to happen, we need to attract talent from the local area, especially in the skilled trades. We need skilled trades from the local area for years to come. We hope to get that stream of talent coming into our plant.”

Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the Canadian Welding Bureau Group, echoed similar sentiments.

“The story is consistent across the country,” he said. “Indeed, the skills shortage is a problem around the world. This is an opportunity to re-energize students in the welding trades.”

Valley Heights Secondary School took the lead on improving welding education at area high schools several years ago with the installation of virtual reality welding simulators. Simulators ease students into welding without the high voltage and shower of sparks that accompanies the real thing.

Luciani doubts simulators will be part of the coming upgrade. Simulators, he said, cost about $50,000 apiece.

Instead, Luciani expects to see a significant investment in state-of-the-art equipment of the kind found in a modern manufacturing facility.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com