Portage Collegiate Institute automotive students are enjoying the benefits of a $55,000 grant that supplied them with two welding booths and a welding system. Automotive instructor Sean Benedictson says they applied for a SSEEF (Skill Strategy Enhancement Equipment Fund) grant last year through the province of Manitoba and succeeded.

"We received two Diversitech Clean Air workstations." says Benedictson. "They're a booth that's lit that has a downdraft in them, allowing kids to weld without any fumes coming at them. So, if they have things like asthma or something like that, they can weld and it's not going to affect them as much, for sure."

The funding also purchased them as new multi-process welder, and the wiring for the installation, which was a significant portion of the cost. 

"The clean air workstations were a little above $10,000 each," adds Benedictson. "The welder was just over $5,000 and the wiring was about $20,000. Beforehand, we just didn't have a dedicated area for it. It was a process to get everything set up when you got cars and you don't really have time to go and set up the welding for one kid. So, we have a dedicated area now. It's set up all the time."

He explains students are trained and are rotated through the use of the system. 

"It's been very popular in my class so far, and we're so very happy to have it," notes Benedictson. "Kids are loving it, and they're getting quite good. There are some quality welders in the program."

Benedictson says they've likely done more welding since they got the system since the school year began than the last entire five years. He notes once they've been trained and know how to set it up, if they want to weld on any given day, they ask and there's no setup required.

"It's been really successful that way," continues Benedictson. "There are some kids that are, obviously, more interested than others. Some want to be on it every day. I'm pretty happy about that."

He explains Grade 10s begin welding toward the end of their term, and Grade 11s are working with it at this point.

Vice Principal Rob Pehura says they were fortunate to not suffer delays from the province over the time the funds would come through. 

"The change in government and things like that could be an excuse, but Sean Benedictson put the application in -- it would have been about a year-and-a-half ago -- and we found out really late. And then, we only had about a month to order everything and get everything in. But the problem was, by the time we did the grant, Sean submitted it, and I got it in, inflation had kicked in. Costs went up I think 10/15/20 per cent in some cases. We were really lucky that of some of the stuff that we had, some went up, but the manufacturers kept some at the original quote. Sharp Electrical worked with us, too, and kept the electrical cost down."

Pehura says it's always nice to keep things local and use local companies for the work required at the school.

He explains the SSEEF grant is applied for annually and, if successful, supplies the school with things they want for their program that are on their 'Wish List.' It's for equipment that enhances any given program.

Pehura says a situation in Portage with feeder schools (Junior High and Elementary Schools) who send students to PCI to learn some segments of the education in auto shop, really benefited. The new equipment that's incorporated into PCI brings another dimension to the program that they didn't have before. 

"The auto shop can do more things with the kids and better prepare them for when they go out into workforce," notes Pehura. 

Benedictson adds safety is the biggest issue for all they do.

"When we have an opportunity to get equipment that allows us to do things that we couldn't do before, and do them safely, then that's what we want." 


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