HPAC Magazine

Learning model a good fit for skilled trades

Masters Challenge winner instrumental in partnering of institutions.

May 1, 2014   By Patrick Callan

For high school teacher Phil Gagnon, his career as a skilled tradesman has come full circle. The Woodstock, ON native participated in a coop program at College Avenue Secondary School (CASS) as a student in the mid- to late-1980s before going on to earn his gas fitter level 1, red seal plumber and red seal millwright certifications. Seven years ago he returned to the familiar classrooms at CASS where he first plied the trades, and ever since, has been helping the next generation of students earn their gas fitter level three licences.

Gagnon teaches a 110-hr gas technician course at CASS: the only Ontario high school certified as a training provider by Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA). His course is part of CASS’s Specialist High Skills Major program, which is available to Thames Valley District School Board (southwestern Ontario) students under the age of 21. The High Skills program certifies students in Fall Arrest, Confined Spaces Awareness, Lock Out Tag Out, First Aid/CPR, Elevated Platform Training, Propane in Construction, Electrical Safety and WHMIS. Gagnon also brings in local contractors and representatives from Union Gas, Gastite and TSSA as guest speakers and to provide specialized training. 

“It’s a bit of a hidden gem,” he says, emphasizing the biggest advantage for students is that the course is based on a codebook – B149-10 CSA Natural Gas And Propane Installation. Being able to decipher a codebook is an important skill to learn, even if students never use their gas licence again, he says. “You’ve gained an understanding as to how these things are read, how they’re written and what they mean,” he explains.

After completing his course, students can go on to write the TSSA gas fitter level 3 exam right in the comfort of their own classroom. Gagnon says the course material is on par with college-level courses – except in one area. “Ours is free,” he chuckles. The only fee CASS students would have to pay is to the TSSA to write the exam, about $100. 

Before CASS, Gagnon taught a similar course part-time at nearby Fanshawe College for three years. He was instrumental in bringing the gas technician course to CASS and, through a partnership with Fanshawe, CASS provides the classroom and the shop while Fanshawe provides the equipment. CASS runs its courses during the morning, Fanshawe in the afternoon and evening. Many local contractors have donated old equipment for the students to train on as well.

“It’s nice to have all the latest new stuff, but when you’re out in the field you are going to be working on older equipment so it’s nice to have older equipment donated,” he says.

A key component of the High Skills program is a double-credit 220-hour coop placement with a local contractor, which students can take in either Grade 11 or Grade 12. An added bonus: students can register under the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, which guarantees their hours will count towards their apprenticeship. Some students have been fortunate enough to be hired on as an apprentice after their coop placements, such as two recent hires at Oxford Plumbing Inc. 

Oxford’s purchaser, Pierre Trudel, says although the company brings in coop students from different schools, they use CASS students the most. “The nice thing about CASS’s program is their knowledge is more in-depth,” he says. “A couple of the guys from CASS had their gas licence, so you know that when you’re sending them out to help a technician that they know a bit about it.”

At Oxford, coop students typically work from about 9 to 11/11:30 a.m., helping with shipping and receiving in order to gain product knowledge. If they are able to, some start earlier and join journeymen on jobsites to help out as needed. “I think it’s good to get the hands on stuff to see if it’s a good interest for them. A lot of times you’ll get kids who go to school, take all the courses and then they get on the jobsite in the real world and it’s totally different,” he says.

Gagnon adds the coop placements are a “win-win” situation. “Students are volunteering and learning the trade and the employer gets a sense as to what the young adult is like,” he says. “Occasionally they get hired on by that contractor and then they are off to the races.”

Practise What You Teach
Phil Gagnon won the Master’s Challenge at the 2014 HRAI Heating System Technician Skills Competition, held during the CMPX trade show in Toronto from March 19 to 21. In a timed and judged event, Gagnon worked quickly to wire a furnace from scratch using a ladder diagram, and for a piping mock-up he had to make a flare on a piece of copper pipe. Gagnon and a busload of students, both those currently in the program and others considering enrolling in the program next school year, visited the trade show on the final day of the event. “They were very impressed with just how tech everything is, and the variety too, that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” he says.

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