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Aircraft program grounded in 2004

July 31st, 2015 · No Comments

Central Tech students graduated into advanced apprenticeships

In honour of Central Technical School’s centennial, we thought we’d have a look through the Gleaner archives and pull up some of our favourite pieces. This month, we feature a story that appeared in February 2003 about the cancelling of Tech’s prestigious aircraft program. Keep an eye on our Twitter account, @GleanerNews, where we’ll post other stories that celebrate the school’s historic and storied past.

By Annemarie Brissenden

It’s a part of Toronto that is often forgotten: this city is known for building airplanes.

Starting in 1915 with a plant on Strachan Avenue, “the city proliferated with aircraft production by the time World War Two came along,” relates Paul Cabot, curator of the Toronto Aerospace Museum. Employing tens of thousands of people, the industry has produced over 11,000 airplanes.

At the centre of this was the aircraft department at Central Technical School.

“It was the only place in the British Empire that offered aircraft at the high school level,” notes former teacher Lawrence Cambion. Students, who spent their days in an aircraft hanger, had the opportunity to work on helicopters, small planes, and engines. It was an advanced technical program that enabled highly skilled graduates to progress immediately into apprenticeship or employment at companies like De Havilland, and build planes like the Curtis Canuck and the Tiger Moth.

Unfortunately, this unique program will no longer take flight.

“Only four kids signed up for the program last year,” reports school principal Rick Tarasuk, who can’t afford to keep aircraft running on such low numbers.

Edward Sedlak, technical director at the school, traces the decline to “demographics,” noting that over the past 10 years, “the student population has changed.”

However, Trustee Christine Ferreira (Ward 10, Trinity-Spadina) blames the declining level of enrolment on “outdated equipment,” admitting “we haven’t been able to keep up the level that students wanted,” because “we haven’t been able to put money into the program.”

Central Tech was built – completely funded by the citizens of Toronto – when it “became obvious,” notes the school’s website, “that if Canada were to hold its proper place in the world’s markets, a skilled labour force, backed by trained technicians, was a prime necessity.”

Ironically, not much has changed since then.

“We’re presently faced with a shortage of skills-trained people in the aviation industry,” says the Aerospace Museum’s Cabot. Rod Jones, executive director of Ontario Aerospace Council, echoes that sentiment. “We expect in four or five years’ time that there will be a shortage of aircraft maintenance people in Canada.” And that shortage will affect one of the country’s most important industries.

According to a sector study on human resources released by the Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council on Nov. 15, Canada’s aviation industry annually boasts over $20 billion in sales, with the nation’s share of this sector accounting for approximately 6 per cent of global revenues. Yet, “it will be increasingly difficult to recruit workers from its traditional foreign sources,” warns the study, and consequently “domestic sources will become increasingly important. The output from Canadian education institutions and the ability of these institutions to meet the demands of the industry will be critical to future employment growth.”

Principal Tarasuk recognizes the job demand that’s “out there for this. But for whatever reason, kids aren’t going for it.”

Don Whitewood, a volunteer at the aerospace museum, says schools need to be more proactive in promoting the trades. “All the technical programs are going down,” says Whitewood, who used to teach sheet metal as well as physics. “The government thinks all students should go to university.”

“If you took aircraft, you learned six different trades: sheet metal, engines, welding, drafting, theory of flight, and instruments,” points out Cambion. He’d like to “force kids to be exposed to it in grade 9. If they’re not exposed to it, they are not going to take it.”

After all, in the end, it will be the kids themselves that determine whether the program will be saved.

“We won’t be running unless a whole bunch of students decide to choose aircraft, “says Sedlak, “and then we’ll have to re-evaluate the whole thing.”

 

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