Ten students from around Manitoba were at Assiniboine Community College on Thursday for the first agricultural equipment boot camp held in the province.
A similar program was started in Saskatchewan last year. Organizers anticipated a low turnout for the inaugural year but ended up having more than 100 students sign up.
With the success in Saskatchewan, it was decided that a similar program would run a pilot project this year to test the waters.
"We were actually going to pilot it in Manitoba next year, but we just happened to get a couple of divisions that had toured the online school in Saskatchewan that were very keen on bringing it to Manitoba this year," said Larry Hertz, vice-president for Canada for the Western Equipment Dealers Association.
Eleven students from Grades 10 to 12 will spend 50 hours taking online courses, spend a day at ACC for boot camp and then spend another 50 hours working with agricultural equipment dealers.
"As part of the boot camp, we want to introduce students to a wide array of what’s available as far as the trades are concerned," said Kevin Poirier, ACC’s chairperson for mechanical trades.
"We’re concentrating on the mechanical trades. Each student will have four different sessions: one will be welding, they’ll be going through a powertrains lab, they’ll be going through an electrical lab and all of them will come together where I’ve got two science and math teachers that will put them through four different stations."
This first group of students are from communities like Strathclair, Dauphin, Roblin, Russell and Foxwarren. One of the students in the program was unable to make it to Thursday’s boot camp.
When they’re ready, the students will be doing work experiences at companies like Reit-Syd Equipment in Dauphin and Mazergroup. These companies are also sponsoring students to be a part of the program.
The prize for completing the program is a high school credit. However, it also sets the students up to continue their studies at ACC when they’re finished high school.
"It’s a recruitment tool for ACC," Poirier said. "Sooner or later we will get these students in the apprenticeship program, so anything we can do to introduce students to the ag industry, we fully support."
Hertz told the Sun that most agricultural equipment shops have between one and three vacancies for technicians.
By introducing these kids to the industry while still in high school, they’ll convince more of them to consider it as a career path. For instance, they hope to attract urban students without a farming background to consider the ag industry.
With people leaving the industry and retiring, fresh blood is needed.
When he polled students during the lunch break, Hertz said that the feedback he’d received about the day thus far included the words "mint," "keen," "cool" and "too sweet."
The Sun asked some students to comment on their lessons but they declined comment, preferring instead to go back to their ongoing lesson.
If all goes well, the program is intended to fully launch in the next school year, and Hertz sees anywhere from 50 to 100 students enrolling.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark