Algonquin College seeks to increase programs,...
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Nov 14, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Algonquin College seeks to increase programs, student body at Perth campus

Frontenac Gazette

Gazette News - More programs could be coming to Algonquin College's Perth campus.

"We would like to increase our programs and our students," said Shelley Carter-Rose, the Perth campus' dean, on Wednesday, Oct. 23. The decision stemmed out of a sector strategic planning session held this past April, and a decision on which type of programs, and how many, will be made in mid to late November. "I can't put this out there now," she said, but did say that one would likely be in the health care sector, as well as "diversifying the trades program."

The Perth campus already has programs like personal support workers (PSW) and masonry and heritage construction.

"We need to expand," said Carter-Rose, beyond the current nine programs. The Pembroke campus, by comparison, has about 20 programs.

The college will be looking at different criteria to see if the proposed new programs are viable.

"We need to look at financing and enrollment," she said. "If there is a market demand and an employment demand, and if there is any competition."

Carter-Rose was speaking at the college's media day on Wednesday, Oct. 23, and her sentiments about employability were echoed by other members of the college administration.

"We try to give employers what they are looking for," said Monique Cochrane, of the office administration (general) program.

Popular programs With an aging population, programs like PSW's are proving to be popular, with a quite a few job opportunities - though some take exception to common misconceptions about their field of work.

Earlier this year, Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier advised a

nurse working at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital, who had had to take a pay cut in order to keep working at the hospital, that if she did not like her current situation, she could find plenty of work as a PSW.

"I think it is offensive for people to say, 'Oh, why don't you become a PSW,'" said Brittany Moodie, a student in the PSW program. "I have been looking at continuing on my education in nursing. (But) I am very content with being a PSW...We are very privileged to be one-on-one with our patients."

In her program, Moodie and her fellow students are told to "treat your patients like they are your family. We work hard."

Another one of the programs at the college also offers the very real possibility of a job immediately after graduation - but staffers are puzzled at the low sign-up rate.

"The (masonry) students are getting hired for really good jobs," said Andrew Edmondson, the Perth campus' marketing officer. But they are having trouble recruiting students into the program, "and we don't know why."

The average age of a mason in Ontario is 66, one year past the current retirement age, so any young masons, "they are getting snapped up."

Media Day Cars whizz by the campus, day and night, on nearby Craig Street, going to and from Smiths Falls and other destinations, their occupants often unaware of what goes on the college - or, their occupants are curious, but never have the time to stop by for a visit, though the college has been a part of Perth for about 40 years.

"Not a lot of people know a lot about our campus in the community," said Gerry Salisbury, a professor in the Perth police foundations' program, of the need for the media day last month.

Reinvention is as much a part of academia as it is for any other industry, something Cathy James, a Perth Courier columnist, saw for herself with the re-launching of the continuing education program. Several years ago, "it was really, really popular. People would be lining up for registration, it was so popular."

But then the program's popularity began to wane, before its rebirth in September of 2012, and 500 people signed up for courses like photography, shop, computers, and human resources. Part of the success of this was that the college brought "experts from the community (in to) share in the classroom," said James. The added benefit of the program, she said, was to "make them (have) a bit more of an advantage in the job market."

Good wood For many of the students who got up to talk, theirs was a return to the classroom after several years, brought about by a change in career.

"What is my passion?" asked Anton Graser, aged 50. "I love woodworking."

So, he signed up for the heritage carpentry program, which "introduced me to people in the trades. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a lot of building restoration ongoing in the Ottawa Valley. What we are learning in the classroom and what we do in the shop and in the yard (are) seamless."

A younger person who also wanted to make a change in his life course, Zach Ginac, chose masonry as his new path.

"I knew nothing about masonry at the start, I was pretty green," said Ginac, who had studied chemical engineering at the University of Ottawa for about five years before deciding that the world of chemicals was not for him. "I get to do something with my hands. I love it. I don't fall asleep at my desk... (and) the demand for masons is pretty high. I've already been offered two or three jobs in Ottawa."

Ginac did admit that there was a monotonous side to the hands-on experience though.

"Practice makes perfect," he said. "You have to keep laying the same brick over and over and over until you get it right."

Back in the wood shop, the carpentry program attracts people from all over Canada, like Saskatchewan's own John Cody, who came from a family with a long line of carpenters. He called the heritage carpentry program "the best in Canada, North America, sure." He had originally been looking at a college in Nova Scotia, but he is glad he made the move to Perth.

"I don't know why I didn't think to come here sooner," he said. "You are free (here). You can make as many mistakes as you want. There isn't the pressure of learning on the job."

Already two months into the course, he likes what he sees, not only of the college, but the town too.

"You move here, you take the course, and you don't leave here," Cody said.

While Cody liked being here, Moodie, who grew up in the area, couldn't wait to leave when she got the chance.

"I wanted to get out of here, leave my parents' home," she said of her earlier self. "(But) my friends took the PSW program. She said, 'Come in and have a look.'" She liked what she saw, especially coming from the teaching staff.

"They are here for nothing more than to make you succeed," Moodie said. "Not a lot of students in my program are from Perth."

Demographics are driving the demand for her industry.

"We've learned quite a bit about baby boomers," who will place the next big rush of demand on her industry. Already, they are learning about the realities of PSW work, like "facilities, not having enough beds, etc." But, on the up side, "there is never not a job posting. They are starting to welcome PSWs in hospitals again."

Palliative care units and even hospices are other points of call for PSWs.

"It's really where the student wants to go," Moodie said.

Like Moodie, Leah May, of the early childhood education (ECE) program was also surprised to find herself here.

"I truly never thought I would work with children," May admitted. But, "by the end of summer, I said, 'This is exactly what I want to be.'" Fellow ECE student Lorena Burwash already knows what she wants to do with the education she gets at Algonquin.

"When I have my own children, I want to open my own home-based day care," she said.

May commended the Perth campus for having advantages over the busy Woodroffe campus in Ottawa, where she attended classes for one year, in a class of 115.

"I was a number, not a name," in Ottawa, May said. "I wanted more one-on-one time with my professors," which she got in Perth. Also, the program, "introduced us to the work environment a lot earlier."

For Craig McGowan of the social service worker program, learning can be the key to helping others, since you can best "help others by learning about yourself. You can't help others if you don't learn about yourself."

Using the tools taught in his program, he learned that he is a visual learning, something important to know in how he learns, thinks, and even interacts with others, and sees the world. A lot of time is spent in the social worker program, at first, determining learning styles.

But for McGowan, it also really helped to have teachers who were fairly accessible at sometimes unbelievable hours.

"I have received emails from an ethics teacher at 1 a.m.," he said. "If you do not hand in an assignment on time, they will hound you until you get it in."

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