The Northern Lights Public Schools Trades Exposure Centre is a collaborative partnership between the school division, industry, our Indigenous communities, community stakeholders and our federal, provincial and municipal governments.
The $4 million facility currently consists of a service rig (Aurora #69) on a safe well, classroom space and scaffolding shop. The shop includes additional space for other trades-related programming to be offered in the future.
The Trades Exposure Centre will provide trades training opportunities to high school students from throughout Northern Lights. The first cohort of 10 students from Northern Lights completed their hands-on service rig training at the Centre in April, 2016. Curriculum for a scaffolding course is currently under development and is expected to be offered in 2016-2017. Students from high schools in other areas will also be able to access the locally developed courses Northern Lights has created (Driver’s Education, Energy 35 – Orientation to Service Rigs), as well as on-site training opportunities.
In addition to providing programming at the high school level, the Centre will also provide trades training opportunities to apprentices through a partnership with Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training Services Association, North East Alberta Apprenticeship Initiative and Trade Winds to Success Training Services.
The catalyst for the development of the Northern Lights Trades Exposure Program and Trades Exposure Centre was a $120,000 Provincial Dual Credit Strategy (PDCS) grant in 2013 from the Dual Credit Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is comprised of members representing Secondary Education, Advanced Education and Business & Industry. Funding for the PDCS was provided by the Government of Alberta, through a cross-ministry strategy involving Alberta Education, Advanced Education, and Labour (formerly Human Services). The ministry of Indigenous Relations has recently become a fourth Government of Alberta partner for the Strategy.
After consulting with students, parents and industry, Northern Lights created its Trades Exposure Program, which it piloted at Bonnyville Centralized High School (BCHS) starting in 2013. The program includes the highly popular Driver’s Education course, which Alberta Education approved as a locally developed course and is now being used by school jurisdictions across the province. It also included safety courses applicable to eight trades that were chosen strategically from the research gathered. Students were also given hands-on learning opportunities designed to expose them to trades. These opportunities included carpentry, scaffolding, electrical, welding, heavy equipment operator, plumber/pipefitter, instrumentation and automotive. In addition, students are encouraged to take part in work experience programs and the Registered Apprenticeship Program (65 students from our five highs schools were registered in 23 fields in the 2015-2016 school year).
Over the last three years, Northern Lights has seen high school completion rates increase and our dropout rates decline. BCHS now has a dropout rate of less than two per cent. In addition, the Division has improved significantly on its accountability pillar in Work Preparation, increasing five percent (75.9 to 80.5 per cent) in 2015-2016 alone. Northern Lights's School Improvement (two per cent increase over the last three years) and Program of Studies measurements have also improved since the Trades Exposure Program was first implemented.
In 2015, Northern Lights received support from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and numerous industry partners, including Ensign Energy Services which committed to donating a service rig to the project, to further enhance the Trades Exposure Program and build a facility that could provide hands-on trades training opportunities to students in Northern Lights and throughout Alberta. WD funding of over $1.5 million enabled Northern Lights to develop a 4th Class Power Engineering program at BCHS in partnership with Lakeland College, a service rig training course, and the Trades Exposure Centre.
At the time, there were few high school courses available that focused on the oil industry, and none that dealt in depth with areas like service rigs. To develop the curriculum for Energy 35 – Orientation to Service Rigs, Northern Lights partnered with the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors to ensure that the instruction it was providing to its students reflected industry standards and what students would experience on a real job site.
Through a partnership with Alberta Distance Learning (ADLC) and Coole Immersive, Northern Lights took curriculum development a step further and created a gamified online course that would introduce students to working on a service rig. Through ADLC this course can be delivered to any student, anywhere. Several Northern Lights students have already completed the course, as well as students from other jurisdictions in Alberta.
In May, 2015, Ensign Energy Services established the hands-on component of the service rig training program by donating a service rig to the school division. Aurora #69, the first service rig to be owned by a school division, was named by Northern Lights students enrolled in the online Energy 35 course – the same students who were looking forward to learning on the rig once the Trades Exposure Centre was constructed.
The Town of Bonnyville and developer Hammon’s Holdings joined the project in the spring of 2015, donating a two-acre parcel in one of Bonnyville’s industrial subdivisions to house the Trades Exposure Centre. Work on the site began immediately, with R. Batke Oilfield acting as the general construction manager.
The downturn in the oilfield industry presented a challenge when it came time for Northern Lights to drill a well on site. Most drilling rigs were racked up in yards and crews had gone home or moved on to other jobs. The power of partnerships was proven when over 20 companies came together to use Aurora #69, the Division's service rig, to drill the well. All of the companies involved either donated their time, materials or other services, or offered them at a reduced cost to ensure the project was completed on time and on budget. On October 15, 2015 the crew hit the 150-metre mark and completed the well.
Programming opportunities at the Trades Exposure Centre expanded beyond service rig training when Merit Contractors Association awarded Northern Lights a $200,000 Merit Educational Initiative Grant in the fall of 2015 to fund the creation of a scaffolding program at the Centre. The curriculum is currently under development with the help of Seven Lakes Oilfield Services, which will also help deliver the program to students. The course is expected to be offered in the 2016-2017 school year. Students who attend will have the opportunity to receive scaffolding certification and safety certificates.
Northern Lights also recently welcomed ASTEC Safety and Sure Flow Consulting on board to help deliver the training for the hands-on service rig training course. ASTEC will be providing students with all of the relevant safety training and Sure Flow is providing the instructors that will work on the rig with students. Ten students from Bonnyville Centralized High School completed the course earlier this month (April, 2016) at the Trades Exposure Centre.
From the beginning, one of the project goals was sustainability and, in particular, working with other school divisions and our communities to expand the number of students who could access the programs and the Centre. The newest Trades Exposure Centre partners - Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training Services Association, North East Alberta Apprenticeship Initiative and Trades Winds to Success – will help Northern Lights meet this goal by providing services to apprentices throughout the region including training at the Trades Exposure Centre.