June 11, 2004

Ask most young people what question they hear most often, and it’s likely, "What are you going to be when you grow up?"  Thanks to Options 2003, Renfrew County’s first skilled trades exposition, many local students may be closer to their answer.  Young people often think of three post-secondary options:  college; university; or the work force.  But Options 2003 set out to educate students and their parents about a fourth option – apprenticeship.
“We want to promote awareness that there is a fourth option,” said Glen MacGillilvray, Member of the Options 2003 Steering Committee and a Director of the Rotary Club of Petawawa.  “We want them to go away with an appreciation for the breadth of trades and the wealth of opportunity, and we would like their parents to walk away with the same idea.”
Options 2003 brought students, their parents, and potential regional employers together to increase the proportion of high school students seriously considering entering the skilled trades.  Over 3o interactive displays of skilled trades from manufacturing, communications, services, transportation, and construction sectors, facilitated a greater understanding of the skills and competencies involved in the skilled trades.  The Exposition, held in Petawawa’s Civic Centre, attracted 6,700 attendees over a two day period:  April 4th saw attendance at 5,500; and 1,200 braved a snowstorm to attend on April 5th.  Students in grades 7, 8, 10 and 11 attended during school hours with the assistance of transportation organized by the local public and Catholic school boards.
Another hands-on component of the exposition was a skills competition, which attracted over 60 students in the categories of Team Carpentry, Small Power Equipment, and TV/Video production.  The winners of these categories were also able to advance to a province-wide high school skills competition.  Winners of a previously held robotics competition also had the opportunity to display their work at the Exposition.
Options 2003 was the brainchild of the Petawawa Rotary Club in 2002.  The event brought service clubs, municipalities, manufacturers, government agencies, business associations, employers and educational institutions together.  Working to create this successful event, the Steering Committee that oversaw the project also fostered relationships for future collaboration.
The community partners recognized early on that Options 2003 had the potential to do more than simply educate young people.  It gave youth a chance to test-drive careers and ask questions of tradespeople working in the field.  But beyond the immediate impact of reaching out to youth, the organizers hope that, in the longer term, it will help to address some larger demographic issues affecting Renfrew County:  a skilled trade workers shortage; the regional unemployment rate; and youth out-migration.
Options 2003 brought together the financial and administrative support of:  The Renfrew County CFDC; the Renfrew County District School Board; the Renfrew Catholic District School Board; The Town of Petawawa; the Rotary Club of Petawawa; the Rotary Club of Pembroke; EIP Manufacturing; Atomic Energy of Canada; Alqonquin College and the Apprenticeship Branch of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; and Start 96 Radio.   

After hosting its first successful exposition, the organizers are keen to learn from the experience and are in the midst of promoting Options 2004.  This time around, they hope to build upon what worked well last year, increasing opportunities for hands-on experience, and more evening and weekend hours will be available for young people to show their parents what they have learned about options for their future – and that’s what it’s all about.