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Gateway to Trades Program: Five Years of Changing Lives
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Gateway to Trades Program: Five Years of Changing Lives

When 14 students from Central Programs and Services (Central School) in Kelowna completed the Gateway to Trades program on Jan. 29, it marked the fifth year and more than 50 students graduated from this transformational educational opportunity. 

A collaboration between Okanagan College and School District 23, the program provides struggling high school students with a gateway to a brighter future by bringing  post-secondary in reach.

Trent Schmitke is one of those students who can attest to the way in which the program can open doors.

Schmitke recently completed his second year of the RV Technician Apprenticeship program at Okanagan College. A year into his training, he was offered a position with Minard Leisure World, an RV dealership in Regina, SK.

According to Schmitke, the Gateway program was crucial in setting him on the path to post-secondary, after struggling in middle- and high school.

“I’ve always struggled in a formal classroom setting,” he says. “But the Gateway program was hugely helpful in showing me how I could be successful, how higher education was something I could be successful at, and in pushing me to reach for a career in the trades where I could support myself and move up and where there was a lot of potential.”

“I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my future before I enrolled in the Gateway program. But very early into the program I felt ready for College, I felt more confident about myself and my future, and it gave me a sense of purpose and direction.”

Students are not the only ones who have had a rewarding experience.

Jim Ingram has been instructing the program since it began. An RV Service Technician instructor at the College, Ingram has witnessed the program’s remarkable capacity to help struggling students get their lives back on track by bestowing important life skills. 

“Gateway is about far more than giving students a chance to learn hand skills or the tools of a trade,” he explains. “It’s really about helping them develop life skills and a sense of self-discipline—from getting up in the morning and being in class every day, to supporting their fellow students.”

Ingram and gateway group 2016

Ingram believes in the program so much he even came out of retirement last fall to lead another group of students through the course. At the graduation ceremony in January, representatives from School District 23 and the College joined students in presenting Ingram with a plaque recognizing the instructor’s immense contribution to the program. 

“Instructing this program has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” says Ingram. “We’ve had students from very difficult backgrounds, students who have struggled with drugs and all manner of issues.”

“These are students with the same aspirations as everyone else but they don’t necessarily have the skills to get where they want to go. Gateway gives them the skills to pick themselves back up and keep going, even when they stumble. To have seen students do just that has been a wonderful experience, and I hope people continue to support the program and help it carry on for many years to come.”

Donor support has played a significant role in the program’s growth and continuation. Last year, Dee Capozzi created a bursary for Gateway students to help inspire young learners to see the value in themselves and in continuing their education.

“What I like best about the Gateway Program is that it offers students an opportunity to get a hands-on experience at the college's trades facility,” says Capozzi. “As a donor, I feel this is an opportunity to offer a hand up rather than a handout. I believe that through education each student can acquire the tools for success in their life & I'm delighted to be part of it.

The program has now been replicated at other campuses. A class of 14 students from Keremeos Secondary completed 12-week Gateway to Trades program in December 2015. Ranging in age from 15-17, students honed their skills in carpentry, construction craft work, electrical, plumbing and piping, and welding, and had a chance to connect with local employers and tour job sites. 

More information about the Gateway program is available

Photos: (Top): Gateway Graduate Trent Schmitke; (Bottom): Instructor Jim Ingram with 2016 Gateway to Trades program Grads.