With the marine industry hungry for skilled workers, a North Saanich high school hopes to establish an institute where students can take academic, trade and technology courses with a maritime focus.
Parkland Secondary also wants to set up a sailing academy in partnership with the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club to give students hands-on experience on the water.
The idea is to capitalize on the school's seaside location and proximity to seven marinas and more than 50 marine-related business in North Saanich alone.
"This is our environment," Parkland principal Mark Fraser said Tuesday. "Our school is literally surrounded by water and a range of industry.
"We just think it makes sense to use the resources and partner with the community to develop a really strong, vibrant program that meets our students' needs."
The proposal, which has yet to receive school board approval, highlights the demand for skilled workers across the region. "There is now a significant opportunity to help our students prepare for numerous training and employment opportunities in the marine industry," it says.
"It's definitely something we need," said Brian Cover-ley of Delta Marine Service, a yacht repair company in Sidney. Businesses struggle to find proper training for employees and apprentices, he said.
"A heavy-duty mechanic is trained in the logging industry or earth-moving industry. It's a lot different working on a boat, because basically you're working on a house with an engine in it.
"We just need to get a program going that will work for our industry in Sidney and Nanaimo and Campbell River - the whole island, basically."
If approved, the institute would allow Parkland students to follow different paths. Some would focus on academic courses with a maritime twist - including a marine biology program that the school intends to develop.
Others would enter the trades and take pre-apprentice programs or a marine-restoration course.
Students with a passion for sailing would be able to earn school credits, acquire a range of certificates - and compete in regattas and a new Lower Vancouver Island Sailing League.
A Parkland teacher would handle the in-class theory, while Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club would provide on-the-water experience.
"I'm a huge booster," said Steve Lipscomb, the yacht club's junior program director. He said the academy would offer students opportunities to learn about boats, develop leadership skills and gain respect for the environment.
"There's job opportunities," he said. "There's recreational opportunities that abound here, and part of being a mariner is learning how to sail."
Students seem to like the idea. The school offered a Grade 9 math and science course this year with a marine focus, and 27 students signed up, Fraser said. "A couple of weeks ago they were all out in sailboats - most of them for the very first time."
Meanwhile, 20 students are restoring a 32-foot boat as part of the Grade 11 and 12 shop classes.
"We know anecdotally with kids that when you tap into their passion, when you tap into what they're interested in, when you find ways to keep them engaged in school, the level of success goes up," Fraser said.
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