Conestoga College has recently acquired the former Erwin Hymer plant in Cambridge. The college plans to turn the plant into a campus that will house its trade programs.

They’ve seen phenomenal growth over the past 20 years in their trades programs according to their former Executive Dean of Engineering, Technology and Trades Julia Biedermann.

“One of the key reasons for [this move] is really to raise the profile of the skilled trades and get more young people into the trades – to improve the student experience by having one campus that’s modern, open and spacious with natural light,” Biedermann said.

Creating a new campus was an opportunity for the college to consolidate all their trades into a single campus and in turn, free up space at the other campuses for other program areas to grow. The building was chosen due to its large size and the fact that its layout is ideal for this new project.

“What’s really great about it is that it has all kinds of warehouse space. About 130,000 sq. ft. That’s big open space that’s not compartmentalized into rooms so it’s ideal for a trades campus,” Biedermann said.

The first stage of the new campus is set to open in the fall of 2021, but the college plans to make this a long-term project and estimates it will take 40-50 years to build out fully.

“This is just phase one. Because this is on a very large portion of land, about 40 acres, not all of our trade programs will fit in there at once. I’ve been working with the management, faculty and staff to identify those programs that will go there first and what the needs of the programs are in terms of classroom space and shop space,” Biedermann said.

Conestoga hopes that this new campus will help them bring students into the trades and help change perceptions about these jobs.

“Teachers in schools do not direct their students to go into the trades. Parents do not direct their kids to go into the trades. It’s all about ‘Go to university! Go to university!’ but, in the skilled trades, the careers are great, the financial remuneration is really good,” Biedermann said.

The decision to open this new campus also addresses the issues of a predicted shortage in the labour supply for the trades, with the average ages of tradespeople being in their 40s and 50s and a need for young people to replace them.

“Most people when they go into the trades they don’t realize how much money they could be making and what great careers they really are – they seem to think of them as dirty and difficult. For example, a woman might think she can’t [work in a trade] because you need physical strength. Though that may be true in some cases, there are certainly ways of getting around physical limitations,” Biedermann said.

Conestoga College’s hope is that the new campus will attract a whole new generation of tradespeople.