Innovative Aquaculture Training in the Coast of Bays

A partnership between the College of the North Atlantic and the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University is attempting to train people to work in the burgeoning salmonid aquaculture industry in the Coast of Bays region.

Known as the Development and Pilot Testing of an Innovative Demand-led Training Model to Support Entry and Retention in the Aquaculture Sector Research Project, it is led by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) and is one of 14 projects funded to date by the NL Workforce Innovation Centre (NLWIC).

SRDC is an Ottawa-based, non-profit research organization whose mission is to help policy-makers and practitioners develop and field test new programs and to raise the standards of evidence used to evaluate these programs.

Funding is provided by the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Market Development Agreement and NLWIC is administered by the College of the North Atlantic (CNA).

The research involves developing a training model that enhances career adaptability and essential skills of workers in a way that is specifically aligned with the occupational requirements of the aquaculture sector. This model aims to prepare workers for successful training completion, transition to employment, and longer-term retention in aquaculture.

The research objectives are to:

  • Conduct an extensive needs assessment to identify job performance gaps associated with entry-level occupations in salmon aquaculture. This will inform the design of an innovative training curriculum aligned with both job seeker and business needs.
  • Develop and pilot the new training model targeting a broad range of unemployed and underemployed Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including older/displaced workers, those on income support, individuals living in rural or remote regions, Indigenous Peoples and youth.

The research questions are:

  • Are there challenges to implementing the training model, and what adaptations are needed for future iterations of the model?
  • Does the model lead to positive training and employment outcomes, and job retention within the aquaculture sector?

Prior to the start of training, SRDC conducted a needs analysis to determine business trends, employer needs and perceived skill gaps among existing employees.

SRDC interviewed key sector stakeholders and administered surveys to managers from significant salmonid producers in Newfoundland. SRDC also reviewed information on occupational requirements from documents recently published by the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association and the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council. CNA and the Marine Institute (MI) used these findings to inform the development of their training curriculum.

Aquaculture pens near the south coast town of Pool’s Cove. Students enrolled in the aquaculture training program come from south coast towns including Harbour Breton. Photo by Daniel J. Mahoney

The program consists of three components jointly offered by CNA and MI:

  • Essential skills training — five weeks at CNA that started Feb. 18;
  • Technical certificate in aquaculture — seven weeks at MI starting March 25;
  • Aquaculture work experience — five weeks at MI starting May 13.

This research project covers all program costs (tuition, books, materials, etc.) for the trainees and the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour worked with students to identify sources of funding that can assist with travel and accommodation costs.

Recruitment has been ongoing since summer 2018 with the goal of enrolling 16 students, and the program started on Feb. 18 with a full class. This number was chosen so as not to overwhelm the salmon farming companies (Cooke Aquaculture, Mowi Canada East) that have agreed to take students for their five-week work experience terms.

St. Alban’s was chosen as the training location because the vast majority of applicants were from the St. Alban’s-Milltown-Head of Bay d’Espoir area.

Other communities represented among the students include Harbour Breton, Hermitage and Ramea. The timing of the training will make the students available when the aquaculture industry is gearing up for smolt entry in the spring, a very busy time of year for the industry.

To evaluate how well the training works, SRDC will collect information from student surveys, essential skills assessments before and after training, and monitor student progress during training.

It will also conduct employer feedback surveys and follow-up with students six months after their work experience to measure long-term effects on employment and well-being. The hope is that the five weeks of on-the-job training will turn into continued employment for all involved. The results of this research will be available in 2020.

Keith Rideout is a coordinating instructor and technical liaison with MI’s Regional Aquaculture Centre; Boris Palameta is chief behavioural scientist with the Social Research and Demonstration Corp.; Wendy Lee is a research associate with the Social Research and Demonstration Corp.; and Judy Dobson is a director with the College of the North Atlantic.


By Keith Rideout, Boris Palameta, Wendy Lee and Judy Dobson

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