The success of a country depends on the innovation and productivity achieved in –and generated by– its communities. Communities are the heart of every nation and the people in these communities are the fuel for economic growth and prosperity. Thus, it is easy to recognize that education is a cornerstone of every economy. In a world that is changing rapidly with every passing year (economic shifts, political instability, urbanization, etc.), educational institutions are constantly challenged to stay current and ahead.
Add to this the digital revolution that is affecting all aspects of life and is triggering consequent shifts in the labor markets and goods-based to knowledge and services-based economies. “The skills we need to thrive in the 21st century are changing” – Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.
Technical data nearly doubles every two to three years due to the explosive growth of content and knowledge creation. New methods are launched to deliver this content to students and to an existing workforce that needs to be re-trained in this new marketplace. The phenomena of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and like-minded on-line education programs offer high quality teaching to those that have access to connectivity and high-speed bandwidth.
Although we appreciate that more and more people and things are getting connected (nearly 15 billion “things” today, heading to 50 billion in 2020), we also see a growing disparity with those today that do not have ‘access’. The result is that youth who are in dire need of education and new skills in order for them to play an important role in the growth and prosperity of a nation end up leaving their remote and rural locations to join millions in the urbanization movement.
This movement is not good for any country, or for Canada. Our country’s leadership needs to look for ways to close this gap and provide equal opportunities for students who live in rural areas to develop the skills necessary to thrive in our forestry, mining, energy and agricultural industries.
In Canada, one of the underserved stakeholder groups are our communities in the far North. Population growth and tremendous economic opportunities (mainly in the resource sector) find these communities struggling for skilled workers. They also struggle to retain the next generation of workers as students seek their fortune in the more urbanized areas of Canada. It is essential that services, healthcare and education are made available to those that need it most in these communities.
In order to offer a scalable solution (both capabilities and facility, as well as content), I’m proud to announce that Aecon, Bell and Cisco are now collaborating on first-of-its-kind Remote Training Centres. In the summer of 2013, Aecon and Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment & Training Services (KKETS), a Division of Matawa First Nations, entered into a strategic partnership, starting with a joint commitment to provide local access to community-based education, trades and apprenticeship training for First Nations in northern and remote areas surrounding Ontario’s Ring of Fire mining development.
The first Aecon Remote Training Center was deployed in November 2013 in Neskantaga, and the community celebrated its first graduating class this Spring. All of this culminated in our public launch of the program on August 19, 2014.
More centers will follow for the Matawa First Nations this year, after which we expect a nation-wide rollout.
The centers are 20 x 52-foot prefabricated spaces that have a kitchen, washroom, office, coat room and 24-seat classroom. They are designed to be flown in by aircraft and assembled on-site. High-speed satellite broadband will provide the necessary connectivity for community members to access state-of-the-art e-learning tools and educational programing through Cisco networks and TelePresence video technology.
Though fiber-based high speed network connectivity undoubtedly lies in the future for our northern communities the Remote Training Centers will be a great first step to bridge the digital divide. It will also bring quality education (and services) to the First Nations communities across Canada. Aecon will start delivering trades training, and soon other programming will be made available as well.
I for one am excited at the opportunity we are creating for our rural communities through technology. There will be fewer reasons for the youth in remote areas to leave, and we are leveraging the technology around us to transform communities and build a stronger, healthier Canada.