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All apprenticeship and technical training in Saskatchewan is cancelled for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

Cole Zieg, an 18-year-old aspiring lineman, had been studying at Northlands College in La Ronge, Sask., but because of the recent outbreak, he’s now heading home to Radville.

National Observer found Zieg on his way to tell his landlord he had to leave town and to please save a space for him in case he returns.

“Well, at least I shouldn’t have to worry about traffic on my drive home,” Zieg said as he stared down the highway. Radville is about 750 kilometres south of La Ronge.

He’s leaving because the nature of his trade requires practical application, which makes it difficult to follow recommended social-distancing guidelines.

“It’s not really something you can do online,” he said.

Approximately 2,000 apprentices, pre-apprentices and pre-employment students in trade-related fields in Saskatchewan are in similar situations.

“For the safety of students and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak, all apprenticeship technical training scheduled for this time has been cancelled,” Advanced Education Deputy Minister Mark McLoughlin told National Observer.

“Upcoming technical training scheduled for April and May has also been cancelled. This emergency response impacts (more than) 1,300 apprentices in Saskatchewan.

“In addition, another 700 students are affected by the cancellation of pre-apprenticeship and pre-employment programming.”

A Northlands College trade school facility in Air Ronge. Photograph by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

Zieg wasn’t surprised by the news trades programs were down until further notice.

“For the safety of students and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak, all apprenticeship technical training scheduled for this time has been cancelled,” Advanced Education Deputy Minister Mark McLoughlin told National Observer.

“We kind of expected this would happen,” he said.

Zieg hopes to come back to La Ronge in April, but doesn't think he will be able to complete his training on time, if at all, and is looking at other options.

In the meantime, he said, he will apply for employment insurance.

Northlands College attracts young people from around the province and especially the north because of its reputation for pre-employment, trade-related courses that prepare students for careers in northern Saskatchewan.

Northlands College in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. Photograph by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

Training local residents in essential skills is a top priority in the north because they are seen as more likely to stay in their communities and help grow the economy.

“We may not be able to complete all the courses at this time; however, we are committed to (helping) students complete as many as they can,” Cherise Chrispen, Northlands College’s vice-president of student affairs, told National Observer.

“We are in unprecedented times that are rapidly changing on a sometimes hourly basis. The most important thing for everyone to be doing right now is (social-distancing) or self-isolating.”

On March 19, campuses moved to “limited on-site services.” On March 20, the college claimed in an announcement that “many technical, trade, health and mining programs” would begin again on March 23. This would be at odds with the information provided by the Ministry of Advanced Education, however.

An announcement on March 24 did not mention trades programs. Northlands College campuses are closed to the public and non-essential staff. Students are advised to contact their instructors directly if they need information on courses.

"Saskatchewan's post-secondary sector is in daily, if not hourly, contact with the Ministry of Advanced Education as we all work together to adapt to the rapidly-changing circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19," McLoughlin said.

"Earlier this week, institutions that are small and able to maintain social-distancing protocols were planning to run their hands-on training. Unfortunately, given the more restrictive protocols announced this week by the Ministry of Health, these plans may now be on hold. Our shared priority continues to be the health and safety of Saskatchewan citizens," he said.

The Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission oversees the co-ordination of technical training, designation of trades and certification of journeypeople.