Provincial funding spurs planning for Advanced Skills Centre, NAIT’s largest-ever project

Government of Alberta commits $43 million for design phase

A 12-acre lot just north of NAIT’s original Main Campus is set to become the home of what will be the biggest development in the institute’s history.

Over the last six decades, the polytechnic has developed a reputation as Canada's leading apprenticeship education institute. “That’s the result of a lot of hard work on creating a great curriculum and great spaces, and of having amazing instructors,” says School of Skilled Trades dean Matt Lindberg (Plumber ’01).

That reputation will reach new heights with the opening of the Advanced Skills Centre (ASC), a 640,000-square-foot (59,500-square-metre) learning space. It will transform the nature of education in trades and related technologies at NAIT, and boost student capacity.

Now, thanks to $43 million from the Government of Alberta, the project is set to enter the design phase.

“This is a pivotal point for us,” says Lindberg.

And for Alberta. The ASC comes when the province faces labour shortfalls of tens of thousands of skilled workers, threatening to delay projects worth billions of dollars to Alberta’s gross domestic product.

“This state-of-the-art facility will raise the profile of apprenticeship education and attract and graduate the workers the province needs,” said NAIT president and CEO Laura Jo Gunter, speaking at a May 28 celebration of the investment, which was attended by Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney, additional members of the Government of Alberta, representatives from industry, and NAIT students, instructors and staff. The event was held at a carpentry shop on Main Campus.

“By providing experiential training, NAIT will help ensure Alberta’s economy remains prosperous.”

Breaking the bubble

photo of advanced education minister rajan sawhney at NAIT

Currently, NAIT boasts some of the best purpose-built facilities in post-secondary, says Lindberg. But “purpose-built” is the paradigm from which the polytechnic seeks to pivot. The design and function of the ASC will enable that shift.

For example, Electrician apprentices currently work in shops designed just for them; Electrical Engineering Technology students learn in separate, specifically appointed labs. ASC spaces will be adaptable to either experience, allowing a designer to better understand the job and needs of the installer, and vice versa, making for better, more efficient projects in industry.

“Students will have the understanding of how you work with folks in the field,” says School of Applied Sciences and Technology dean Dennis Sheppard.

“Our graduates all around will be stronger.”

The ASC will also allow for the repatriation of programs that have been practising in near isolation. Plumbers, for instance, have learned at Patricia Campus on Edmonton’s west end since the mid-1970s. Welders have been stationed at Souch Campus, in the south, since the late-’90s.

Having them back on Main Campus “will bring together all of our trades programs in ways that we've never considered,” says Lindberg. The design and build of, say, a tiny home inside the ASC – a task involving nearly every discipline – would invite new opportunities for collaboration and for broadening students’ awareness of the nuances of industry.

After learning together in ways that simulate actual job sites, “our graduates all around will be stronger,” says Sheppard.

Building for the future

photo of rendering of advanced skills centre exterior

In time, that will lead to creating the workforce that construction, energy and manufacturing companies are calling for. Among those are PCL Construction and Inter Pipeline, which were represented by speakers at the event.

“Alberta is back and building for the future,” said Jason Idler, PCL’s chief operating officer, heavy industrial. “But with the volume of work anticipated across all sectors, we need more boots on the ground. We need employees with the right skills. We need people who understand the potential integrations of technology across workstreams. We need people who can communicate effectively and work as a team.

“In short, we need the well-rounded, skilled workers NAIT is known for.”

The project represents the largest investment made into skilled trades and technology-based infrastructure in more than a decade, noted Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney during her remarks.

“With the new Advanced Skills Centre, students will have a dynamic new space that delivers state-of-the-art programs, and the world-class educational experience NAIT is known for,” she said. “This investment sets NAIT on a path to deliver the most comprehensive, leading-edge apprenticeship and technology-based education anywhere.”

“Alberta is going to lead the way in training a future-ready workforce."

What’s more, Sawhney added, “it will accommodate the evolution and growth of programming over time, allowing NAIT to meet emerging needs to support Alberta’s diverse and competitive industries.”

The structural flexibility of the ASC will also allow for select trades and technologies to be quickly ramped up, helping to provide an influx of skilled workers where they're needed most.

“The demands of the economy will drive program growth and contraction,” says Sheppard.

That is, while evolution will be a function of the ASC’s form, it will also be an expectation.

With the new facility, Gunter told the audience, “Alberta is going to lead the way in training a future-ready workforce.

“This funding from Alberta’s government acknowledges the crucial role of skilled trades in the economy and NAIT’s role in delivering apprenticeship education. In collaboration with industry and the community, NAIT is set to modernize and expand our training capabilities.

“This is an investment in our vision, setting the stage for Alberta’s future.”

photo of advanced education minister rajan sawhney with nait apprenticeship students in carpentry shop

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