County, industry look to beef up skilled trades

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Haliburton County will have a hand in local workforce development.
And they’re going straight to the high school to do it.
Steve Ovell, economic development and tourism director, brought the idea of a skilled trades partnership to county council when it met March 27. It’s based on a partnership that was undertaken by the county and community industry partners last spring.
Haliburton County partnered with the Haliburton County Homebuilders Association (HCHBA) in May 2023 to host the first skilled trades bus tour. Thirty students went to five locations within the county to highlight skilled trades job opportunities.
“We view it more as it’s really a workforce development program,” Ovell said. “It gets some access for our home builders to get into the classroom and further support them.”
Locations included Sunbelt Rentals, Holden Truss Plant, a construction site at 75 per cent completion, a completed timber frame home, and a large landscaping site.
Employers at each site were provided an opportunity to address the students and discuss the employment options within their sector and the stability of the jobs. The program was well received and will be run again this spring. 
The hope is that from good things will come greater endeavours.
The implementation of the day-long course generated further discussion regarding partnership opportunities in the future, particularly around creating more exposure of the skilled trades to the county’s young people.
So the county, HCHBA, and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) began discussions last fall about such a partnership that will cover the fundamentals of framing and drywall installation as well as introduction to electrical work, including the basics of wiring switches and lights.
HCHBA members donated their time and materials to the HHSS skilled trades class as a method of connecting students to trades and apprenticeship opportunities. They had also engaged with math and co-op classes to discuss the importance of their curriculum to growth in the trades.
To help support the class and enhance its budget, the HCHBA donated more than $3,000 in materials to the class to help further develop its programming.
“They’ve graciously donated a lot of their staff time and some financial resources,” Ovell said. “If we can help support them so that they’re not paying out of pocket to further enhance the program, that’s our role in this.”
The county would provide financial support to HCHBA to allow them to purchase additional materials, tools, and safety equipment to help enhance the projects and program.
In return HCHBA members would continue to donate their time and HHSS would invite them into the classroom of 22 students to assist with the hands-on work.
Instruction includes safety training so students would be better prepared to start summer employment.
Councillor Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills, wondered if the school board would kick in some resources for the program.
“It seems we are funding, the home builders are giving a lot of volunteer time, what’s the school board doing?” Carter said.
“School board obviously is funding the program through their budget,” Ovell said. “The one number I couldn’t get from them was the actual overall financial contribution that they put towards the class.”
He said that one of the details that would be spelled out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county and the HCHBA. The MOU will formalize the partnership and outline the responsibilities and tracking procedures of each organization. 
Should this partnership be a success, the program could expand into 2025.
Coun. Cecil Ryall, Highlands East’s deputy mayor, said universities provide good educations, but more people in skilled trades is what’s needed today. He wondered if more of the trades could be introduced at the high school level in future.
“This is the first step in the process,” Ovell said. “If we’re successful, it could be something that could be maybe duplicated or replicated in other areas of the province.”
“I think we need to do more of this sort of thing,” said Coun. Murray Fearrey, the mayor of Dysart.