Local Manufacturer Partners with Apprenticeship Program

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Windsor Star/Richard Riosa

A local manufacturer has announced a partnership allowing students from Belle River District High School to become apprentices at its facility under the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.

Reko International Group Inc. announced the agreement Friday with the Greater Essex District School Board. The partnership will see students from the nearby school receive a paid apprenticeship from the Lakeshore manufacturer.

Belle River will launch its Precision Metal Cutting program in September, offering students in-class training before they begin their apprenticeships.

Reko general manager Dave Romanello said this partnership is an attempt to help balance the aging workforce in the region by bringing in and training young workers.

Romanello said it has been difficult for Reko to recruit young apprentices in recent years and said he hopes this new partnership with the school board can help generate interest in the manufacturing trades.

“The OYAP program’s really going to help us out because now we can generate some interest at the level of high school, so they can come in and see if the trade is for them,” Romanello said.

Chris Bellmore, a 15-year-old Belle River student, said he enjoys the hands-on aspect of manufacturing and said he’s excited to earn money while he learns a trade.

“I feel like it opens a lot of doors for me and it’s going to make it easier to find a job later in life,” said Bellmore.

Shawn Boycott, 18, is a Grade 12 student at Herman secondary school and is also currently an apprentice at Reko.

He said working in a manufacturing facility has given him the opportunity to learn things he wouldn’t have been able to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to even have a job right now if I didn’t do OYAP,” said Boycott. “It really got me started and helped me know what I want to do after high school.”

School board OYAP co-ordinator Ed Kotevich said the partnership between Belle River and Reko is a good step toward filling the demand for skilled workers in the area, but more must be done to recruit young apprentices.

“There has been a surge of (local) collaboration in the last year and this (partnership) is the result,” said Kotevich. “Clearly the smart companies are partnering with the public school board. The other ones, well they’re probably still complaining about the shortage of skilled workers.”

Joe Sirianni, corporate human resources manager at Reko, said it’s important for prospective tradespeople to begin their training at a young age in order to ensure the demand for new workers in the area is met. He said colleges and high schools must do a better job of educating students, as well as parents, about the positive benefits of pursuing a skilled trade.

Romanello also said it’s up to local companies in the manufacturing industry to take an active role in training the next generation of skilled workers and said this agreement with the school board is Reko’s effort to play a larger role in apprenticeship development.

“I really hope our competitors will take that step and invite OYAP into their building … it’s a great program and the youth need guidance,” said Romanello.