Grande Prairie Campus

The skilled labour shortage in Alberta has become so severe in some areas that it is now actually impeding business development. That’s why the construction of a proposed $55 million Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) campus in Grande Prairie—with its focus on apprenticeship training—has local business people excited, including representatives from the forest industry.

“Looking to the future, we will have a need for skilled employees in all areas— trades, steam tickets and operations,” says Aleasa Tasker, Weyerhaeuser’s vice president and mill manager at Grande Prairie Pulp. “Having this type of training available in Grande Prairie would definitely be an asset.”

The proposal is now before the Alberta government as part of NAIT’s $1 billion capital spending plan announced last year. If approval is given this spring, the Grande Prairie campus could be opened in 2009.

“Businesses are turning away business because they can’t get the skilled labour,” says Sam Shaw, NAIT president and chief executive officer. “Having access to skilled labour is absolutely critical to ensure a vibrant economy and to attract more economic development.”

While NAIT offers over 250 programs, not all will be offered in Grande Prairie. Apprenticeship programs at the NAIT campus in Grande Prairie would focus on those training programs in the greatest demand, as identified by local businesses, politicians, and community members. They include apprenticeship training for electricians, millwrights, instrumentation, welding, and carpentry.

“Grande Prairie is one of Alberta’s fastest growing communities,” says Shaw. “The demand is absolutely driving the need for more apprentices.”

NAIT has included a request toprovide some student housing as part of its funding request from the government. The proposed campus location is on 22.7 acres along Hwy _0 across from what is known as the Knowledge Campus.

The area includes St Joseph’s High School, ice rinks, and a gymnasium. Shaw says the site of the future NAIT campus was strategically located to encourage interaction with high school students and parents. “Area students will certainly benefit from getting the best technical education available in Canada right at their doorstep,” says Shaw.

He emphasizes that NAIT’s programs will in no way clash with programs offered at the existing Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC). Simply put, he says NAIT offers apprenticeship programs and GPRC does not. Conversely, GPRC offers programs like nursing, which are not offered at NAIT. Each will have a specific educational mandate to fulfill.

NAIT provides over 50 per cent of apprenticeship training in Alberta, and offers 15 trades that are unique to the province. Some elements of those apprenticeship programs will be offered in Grande Prairie.

The Institute is also currently seeking approval to offer a four-year Bachelor of Technology degree, which currently does not exist in Alberta, as well as a Bachelor of Business Enterprise degree that will involve collaboration with institutions such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NAIT will be the only post secondary institution in Canada to offer this degree. Shaw says NAIT’s new Grande Prairie campus would also offer local businesses the opportunity to collaborate on applied research that could benefit such industries as forestry and oil and gas.

The Institute already has a significant presence in northwestern Alberta, with existing campuses in Peace River and Fairview. There are plans to significantly expand the program selections in those communities as well.

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