Opportunity knocks

Agriculture students at ACC. Photo provided by Assiniboine Community College

Assiniboine Community College has big plans for Brandon

Two-and-half-hours west of Winnipeg lies Brandon, the second largest city in the Keystone province. Brandon may not always get the attention that the Manitoba capital does, but there is a lot going in this small but mighty community. According to Economic Development Brandon, the city itself has grown five per cent between the 2016 and 2021 censuses, with 51,313 people calling it home. The entire Southwest Economic Region grew to 117,432 people between 2016 and 2021, an increase of 3.4 per cent.

“The Brandon business community plays a vital role in supporting the provincial economy. Its diverse industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, and services, contribute significantly to the province’s overall economic output,” says Connor Ketchen, general manager at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce. “Brandon stands out as a place to do business due to its strategic location, skilled workforce, and supportive business environment, which includes access to resources, networking opportunities, among others.”

Call it home
“There is a lot happening in Brandon, and outside of the Perimeter in general,” says Mark Frison, president of Assiniboine Community College. “My family has called Brandon home for 14 years, and it’s a vibrant community fantastic for families. It provides so many amenities without the challenges of larger urban centres, and is close enough to Winnipeg to enjoy that ‘urban life’ when you want.”

Maple Leaf Foods, Brandon. Photo provided by Economic Development Brandon.

The big picture
Brandon is also more than just a great place to live. It’s also in the heart of Manitoba’s agricultural and agri-food industries, and it’s taking the opportunity to strengthen that power even more. The Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture is a major endeavour for Assinboine Community College that will set up the school and the region with a one-of-a-kind project to serve the sectors with labour market development, research and engagement.

“By 2029, one in five jobs in agriculture will go unfilled in Manitoba,” says Frison. “The innovation centre will help build the skills we need here. When it’s complete, we will increase our agricultural training capacity to 800 seats.” The province’s agriculture and food industries and various levels of government have embraced the college’s efforts. The provincial government announced $10 million in funding this year, and a collaboration has been created for two new education programs already—Chemical Engineering Technology and Food Science. Both programs are new to Manitoba, and the Food Science program is the first to be offered on the Prairies.

“Value-added agriculture is a major economic driver that still has so much room for growth,” says Frison. “The province is well-positioned to feed our growing world, and we have so much opportunity to get more value from what we’re producing. The innovation centre will help do that.”

Seeing the future
“The pandemic has also opened new opportunities for communities like Brandon,” says Frison. “We’re seeing migration from larger cities to smaller centres for a variety of reasons like cost of living and quality of life. We have a chance to show people looking for a new place to call home what we can offer. This is the time to tell our story.”

Fair play
There’s also more to Assiniboine Community College than agriculture. The school is a leader in community-based training, offering programs and courses in 32 sites throughout Manitoba last year. This innovative system allows students to learn where they live and train for the jobs needed in their communities. However, according to Frison, there are still challenges to address. “Manitoba has the second-lowest rate of post-secondary educational attainment in Canada,” he says. “However, we know that 70 per cent of jobs need training or certification beyond high school.”

College training programs are integral to getting people the training they need, but more emphasis is often placed on university-level education. In Manitoba, 76 per cent of post-secondary seats are in universities, with 24 per cent at colleges—and 86 per cent of the funding for post-secondary education is focused on Winnipeg. It’s an imbalance Frison is working hard to fix. “If we want all our communities to thrive, we need training available where people are. When we can provide learning opportunities where the students are, they are more likely to stay in their community and fill the jobs that are there. It’s more than just tuition fees that matter. It’s also about equitable access for those outside of Winnipeg.”


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