February 21, 2005

Event promotes skilled trades and local employment for students

At a time when many communities are feeling the burden of an aging workforce, a Southwestern Ontario group is promoting future local employment for students through work in the skilled trades.  ‘SLOME’ (Skills, London, Oxford, Middlesex, Elgin) is an annual event held each May which invites students from grades 5 through 12 to a unique, interactive event which promotes careers in science, technology and skilled trades.

“It is great to see young people trying these real-world activities, because it challenges the old view that skilled trades are only for those that aren’t smart enough in academics,” says Jeff Witczak, a veteran volunteer of nine years and the Chair of SLOME 2004.  He says the students aren’t the only beneficiaries of the event.  “Employers learn more about their future workforce.  Instead of reinforcing the myth of young people as trouble-makers, they see that today’s youth are very talented.  It is an eye-opener for everyone.”

SLOME, an independent not-for-profit project of the Elgin, Middlesex, Oxford (EMO) Local Training Board, promotes technology careers with emphasis on transferable skills required in today’s job market.  It also encourages interaction between the business and educational communities and generates positive publicity for student achievement.  The project operates on the philosophy that students learn best by using all of their senses.  Therefore, all exhibits and activities are hands-on, requiring students to work with local business people and learn more about career options as employees or entrepreneurs.

Through this interaction, students learn more about their own interests and expose many hidden talents through non-competitive team projects.  Creativity is stressed and, over the years, many students who had not excelled academically earned the respect of their teachers and peers and, most importantly, more confidence in themselves.

This is the most rewarding aspect for volunteers, says Witczak.  “It makes it all worthwhile when we hear back from parents and students reporting that they have finally found something they are good at and are now ready to face the future.”

It takes the whole community to host an event with such wide-reaching impact.  Many of the volunteers, schools, exhibitors and sponsors have been involved in the event since its inception in 2000 as a tri-county project.  It has since grown to more than 1700 students participating in the hands-on exhibits.  Organizers are planning for 3000 student participants at this year’s event on May 11th, which is being held for the first time in the Progress Building at Western Fairgrounds.  As program has evolved, new topics like police forensics, and health and safety have been added, and plans for next year include the agriculture sector.

Over 60 volunteers help to organize and run the day including hosting and maintaining a virtual presence for the event at  An additional 60 business people attend to host the exhibit areas.  Local sponsors include  Community Futures.