Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The following piece is one of several appearing in the special summer edition of  our Insight Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

A variety of components are required to build a successful community.

 

Among these is a strong link to higher education, something Cambridge has been fortunate to have since its amalgamation courtesy of Conestoga College.

 

Founded in 1967 as Conestoga College of Applied Arts and Technology, it was among 22 community colleges established by the Ontario government between 1966-69 to provide diplomas and certificates in career-related, skills-oriented programs.

 

In the beginning, Conestoga College offered only part-time classes out of Preston High School as construction began on its Doon campus site in the south end of Kitchener, and by 1969 had already expanded by setting up Adult Education Centres in Cambridge, Guelph, Stratford, and Waterloo. It also began offering 17 full-time programs set up in portables at its Doon site to accommodate 188 students, with 67 of them attending its very first convocation in 1969.

 

But the college faced growing demand which resulted in the opening of a permanent campus in Guelph in 1970. Within a few years, not only did construction began on its Early Childhood Education Centre at its main Doon campus but the college also established its nursing program when the responsibility of four regional schools of nursing was transferred to Conestoga.

 

Throughout the next few decades as Cambridge expanded, the college continually added additional programs to keep pace with growing demands, to the point where it currently serves approximately 26,000 students (12,500 full time) through its eight campuses and training centres in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Stratford, Guelph, Ingersoll, and Brantford.

 

Being designated in 2003 as one three Institutes of Technology and Advance Learning by the province, along with Humber and Sheridan colleges, opened even more possibilities for the college now that it could award degrees to students in its Mechanical Systems Engineering program and Bachelor of Architecture Project & Facility Management program. Additional degree programs were added in the years that followed.

 

“I think the college has come a long way because we have a vision, we have a purpose and we’ve been trying to get a little better,” said Conestoga College President John Tibbits, who took on the job in 1987, in a previous interview with the Chamber.

 

In the fall of 2006, he shared some of that vision when plans were unveiled for a proposed Cambridge campus to be located on a 136-acre site near Blair. According to an article published in the Cambridge Times that September, the campus was to become home to four centres of excellence with the consolidation of many existing engineering technology and industry trade programs from the Doon and Guelph campuses.

 

The cost for this venture was pegged at $47 million and would include a 200,000-square-foot building to house 1,600 students by 2009.

 

In the end, the college’s Engineering & Technology Campus opened on Fountain Street South in Cambridge in 2011. The 260,000-square-foot building – awarded a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification - not only houses innovative technology labs and shops, but the Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) which features processing lines for beverages, baked goods, vegetables, and a food testing laboratory. This 8,000-square-foot plant is a one-of-a-kind learning facility in Canada.

 

A year later the college established its Centre for Smart Manufacturing, with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to provide students from various IT and engineering programs with a hands-on chance to work with industry partners in the robotics, automation, and manufacturing sectors.

 

In 2018, the Conestoga Applied Research Facility opened at 96 Grand Ave. South in downtown Cambridge and now plays host to the rebranded SMART (Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies) Centre which made the move from the Doon campus. It now occupies 10,000 square feet of space in the historic Grand Innovations building for applied research with another 7,000 to 8,000 used to house the centre’s fully operational recycling plant.

 

“SMART Centre is all about engagement with industry and the ability for us, as subject matter experts in advanced manufacturing, recycling and digital innovation, to engage with students and industry partners to help solve industry challenges,” said Ignac Kolenko, Executive Director of the SMART Centre, in a previous Chamber interview.

 

However, the college made an even bigger investment in Cambridge when it transformed the former Erwin Hymer Group North America manufacturing plant into its state-of-the-art Skilled Trades campus.

 

The 250,000 square foot building on Reuter Drive, the former home to the BlackBerry repair centre, was purchased by Conestoga College in 2019 at a cost of $33.5 million with the aim to bring all its trade schools together under a single roof.

 

“It’ll give us a chance to have one of the most comprehensive and high-quality trades facilities in the province,” Tibbits told the Waterloo Record at the time. “This is a game-changer.”

 

The campus opened in 2022 and features more than 150,000 square feet of shops and labs designed and equipped to meet the unique requirements of trades education and training. Additional phases for the 40+-acre property are currently underway.

 

But the college’s commitment to education has also been matched by its ongoing commitment to the local community and its $1.5 million partnership with the City of Cambridge towards the creation of the Fountain Street Soccer Complex is the perfect example. The site will feature seven fields – four with natural turf and three with synthetic turf – as well as a 6,500 square-foot-service building.


“Conestoga has a long and proven history of working with our municipal partners to address local economic, social and workforce needs,” said Tibbits. “The college greatly appreciates our partnership with the City of Cambridge and with leading Cambridge employers such as Toyota, ATS and Eclipse Automation as well as with our many applied research partners and collaborators as we all work together to build a stronger, more prosperous community.”

 

Just the facts 

  • Conestoga grads contribute more than $2.3 billion to the local economy annually
  • 5,231 Ontario businesses are owned by Conestoga College graduates
  • 4.8% of Conestoga College’s alumni are business owners (5,416 businesses owned by grades).
  • Since 2018, more than 170 employers have relied on Conestoga College’s Corporate Training services to support the upskilling of their employees
  • Nearly 55% of the local adult population has participated in Conestoga’s education and training opportunities
  • The college welcomes 2,500 international students from 80 countries – largest number of students from India, with South Korea, China, Brazil, Central America, and Nigeria
  • International students now represent 20% of full-time student population
  • Nearly 80% of international students remain in Canada when they graduate
  • More than 1,500 Conestoga students participate in applied research projects annually
  • 96.6% of Conestoga grads live in Ontario, with 64.8% living in the local community

 

* Courtesy of Conestoga College

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When the first students arrive for class in September at Conestoga College’s skilled trades campus, they will quickly discover a unique learning environment.

 

“It’s going to be a living lab,” says Suzanne Moyer, Conestoga Dean of Trades and Apprenticeships, describing the 322,000-square-foot state-of-the art learning facility taking shape at the former site of motorhome manufacturer Erwin Hymer on Reuter Drive. “The infrastructure is such that areas are exposed so that students can see how the building was built. You can walk into a classroom and actually see the duct work.”

 

Suzanne says the building, the first part of a multi-phase plan for the campus to house all of Conestoga’s skilled trades programs, has been designed with a very ‘open and visible’ concept towards learning with 150,000-square-feet of space dedicated to shops and labs.

 

“There are lots of windows so if you’re walking through the building, you can see what’s happening in the shops and other students can also see what’s going on,” she says, noting the campus will heighten the college’s successful approach of providing hands-on and practical learning. “Conestoga College has always been an advocate for skilled trades and in the last 15 years or so, we’ve really grown the amount of programming we have in the skilled trades.”

 

The timing for this major move couldn’t be more critical since the need for skilled trade workers only continues to increase in Canada, with a potential shortage of 60,000 workers expected by 2025. Currently, an analysis of 56 high-demand trade sectors nationwide indicates a shortage of approximately 10,000 skilled trades workers – which could be as high as 100,000 if all 250 regulated trades in Canada are considered. As well, the federal government says approximately 700,000 trade workers in Canada are likely to be retired by 2028.

 

“In part, we’re definitely responding and aware of that need both regionally, provincially and federally,” says Suzanne, noting a key goal was to consolidate the programs currently offered among the college’s seven campuses at one central location. “With that you get more efficiencies, and you also get all the students in different trades working more closely together. There are many positive things that will come out of this by having everyone located in one area.”

 

She admits there have been hurdles, including the pandemic, supply chain issues and labour disruptions, that delayed the project after Conestoga College purchased the site in 2019.

 

“But we’ve continued to adjust and amend the schedule and work our way through,” says Suzanne. “For example, our HVAC, millwrighting and electro-mechanical programs were supposed to move into the building in September but now they are going to move in next spring and be ready for students in September 2023.”

 

However, this September the new campus will become home to several of Conestoga College’s many skilled trades programs, including electrical, plumbing, machining, carpentry apprenticeship, as well as its one-year multi-trade program which allows students to sample four trades.

 

“The students are very excited because it will be a new and full-service campus,” says Suzanne, referring to the features provided which include a library, food services, counselling services, academic supports, and student success advisors.

 

She says the timeline for when the rest of the campus will be developed depends on funding. The first phase has come with a price-tag of $110 million.

 

“A lot of factors play in to all that. But we definitely have the space to grow,” says Suzanne, referring to the 42-acre site.

 

She notes the reaction from the business community has also been very positive and says Conestoga College welcomes any opportunity for partnerships.

 

“We have all kinds of opportunities to partner together. We work with organizations to make sure it is a good partnership,” says Suzanne, adding financial and in-kind donations are important but there are other ways businesses can be involved. “For those not in the financial position to donate, we have program advisory committees for every one of our programs where members of industry provide us with guidance in terms of what’s needed in industry from our graduates.”

 

She says these committees meet twice a year and provide valuable input to ensure Conestoga College is offering the best programming possible.

 

“We’re always looking for volunteers to serve on our advisory committees and work with us to ensure our graduates are industry ready.”

 

To find out more, visit Conestoga College Skilled Trade Campus.

 

Drawing supplied by WalterFedy/Moriyama & Teshima Architects

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The next Ontario election maybe three months away, but it’s more than clear political leaders have already begun to jockey for position as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift and numerous announcements pertaining to proposed legislative changes surface.

 

Whether it is promising more money for transit projects or getting rid of licence plate sticker fees, these types of political announcements says Darrell Kennedy, a political science instructor at Conestoga College’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies, are part of our democratic process.

 

“They (politicians) are vying for our votes,” he says, adding this type of tactic is often framed in a negative way. “I tell my students we should be more concerned about holding them to their promises as opposed to why they are making promises.”

 

When it comes to the politics leading up to the June 2 election, Darrell says the key issues surrounding the campaign may hold a few surprises.

 

“I think there is a lot of noise surrounding this election and I think much of that noise involves COVID-19,” he says. “However, we underestimate how forward-thinking people are. They are tired of talking about COVID-19, and they want a way out.”

 

Darrell says despite varying opinions regarding how Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives approached the pandemic, the electorate – as well as those in businesses impacted by it – have already made up their minds over the course of the last two years regarding this issue.

 

“I don’t think this election is going to be swayed either way on what your opinion is of how Doug Ford handled COVID-19,” he says, noting he expects it will still be used as a ‘weapon’ by the other parties. “I think it is going to be a war of attrition and as we approach June, we are going to see the Ford government use Ontario’s opening up as a way to take away votes from the other parties.”

 

Darrell says the opposition parties could almost be classified as ‘victims’ of their government position during the last two years because they have an obligation to oppose the government and have done just that – referring to COVID-19 as a political ‘hot potato’. 

 

“I think the stars of have kind of aligned for the PCs in that when this election occurs in the next three months, they are going to be able to offer things to voters,” he says. “I think the other parties right now only have a few tools in their toolbox they can use to attack Doug Ford and a lot of it is in the past.”

 

Darrell says there are many issues political contenders could be focusing on, noting that housing is a key concern for his students – most aged 18 to 25 - as opposed to COVID-19 or even the environment.

 

“They grew up with it,” he says, referring to concerns surrounding climate change. “A lot of the younger generation have a fear about not being able to own a house or even having adequate shelter.”

 

The Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force, which recently outlined more than 50 recommendations in a report, says housing prices have nearly tripled in the last decade in Ontario. According to the report, the average house price in this province at the end of 2021 was $923,000 compared to $329,000 10 years ago. The task force has called for the construction of 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years.

 

“I hope housing is the issue people latch on to because it affects business as well,” says Darrell. “If you can’t afford the house you are living in you can’t afford to spend money in the community you are living in.”

 

To be successful in the election, he recommends Ontario’s political leaders focus on housing and childcare and other ‘regular’ issues that may have been brushed aside during the pandemic but are very important to young families.

 

But just as important, Darrell says the party that does not spend the campaign ‘demonizing’ the others in the media could be very successful.

 

“I think people are starting to get a little bit more wary of how the media portrays different groups and we all have a sense of which parties they may lean towards,” he says. “I think we kind of underestimate the electorates’ knowledge of the difference between the parties.”

 

Darrell says forward thinking is the best tactic for a successful political leader to use.

 

“Ontario has a lot of things it needs to do better and solve,” he says. “But I think the party that focuses more on those sorts of things as opposed to how COVID-19 was handled is going to turn out to be the winner.”

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The economic shutdown from COVID-19 may have physically closed many doors but could be opening new ones online for those looking to upgrade their skills or seek new career opportunities.

 

“Usually we’re all so hustled and bustled by everyday life we don’t’ really get the time to reflect,” says Anna Barichello, Associate Chair, Institute of Online Studies at Conestoga College.

 

As a result, she says many people rarely take an opportunity to ask themselves some important questions: Do I like what I’m doing? Am I challenged in my life? Do I want to learn to do something better?

 

Anna says using the shutdown as an opportunity to take online courses could prove very beneficial to some of those in the business community.

 

“If you’re a small business owner and one of your challenges has always been handling accounting, maybe this is the time you could take an accounting fundamentals course?” she says, which is one of more than 260 courses Conestoga College offers as part of its Ed2Go program.

 

Currently, Anna says learning trends indicate there is an even split among people enrolled in online courses with most either looking to upgrade their skills for their current jobs or taking programs that have absolutely nothing to do with their careers.

 

“This could be the time to see if you want to do a career switch,” she says.

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business of the small-and medium-sized businesses it represents suggested approximately one-third that are closed due to COVID-19 aren’t sure they’ll ever reopen.

 

As well, the article states the federal government is looking at ways to speed up the introduction of skills-training to help out-of-work Canadians. The training was targeted to arrive at the end of this year in the form of an annual tax credit and time off through the employment insurance system for workers that wanted to upgrade their skills, or learn something new to help their job hunt.

 

In terms of enrolment for its Ed2GO courses, Anna says Conestoga College has seen about 135 students register this month, which is about typical, but speculates that number will increase. She says her office has been fielding many enquiries.

“At our office, it’s been business as usual.”

 

She says the wide variety of courses – from accounting to writing for children – may be an attraction and so is the convenience. The programs run four weeks in length and take about four hours a week to complete which is ideal for those working remotely at home.

 

“You can do the work on your own time,” says Anna, noting there are no textbooks. “Everything is done online, including assessments.”

 

She admits some may be intimidated at the thought of learning online, since it is not the traditional way many of us were taught.

 

“Sometimes there is a hesitancy; ‘Will I be able to handle the technology?’ or ‘Will I be able to learn in this medium?’,” says Anna. “But what you get from an online course, the learning outcome, is the same as you would get in a face to face course. You are really getting a quality learning experience regardless of the medium.”

 

She says the Ed2GO programs are created by instructional designers who’ve worked to ensure the students focus on the content and not the technical aspects of how its offered.

 

“They’re designed for easy navigation. You don’t really need to have technical skills to be able to go through the course,” says Anna, adding there is tech support available if students are experiencing difficulties. “There are support officers available.”

As well, she says the college does offer career counselling for those who may be unsure what courses they should take, noting the three most popular programs are Accounting Fundamentals, Fundamentals of Supervision and Management, and Introduction to Microsoft Access 2019.

 

Anna herself says she has taken some project management courses offered via Ed2Go.

 

“I thoroughly enjoyed them,” she says.

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