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Powerline tech students call on Lethbridge College to deliver on program expectations

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WATCH: COVID-19 has presented a number of challenges for educators this year, who have been forced to move learning online and adapt course curriculums. But a group of Lethbridge College students are calling the delivery of their program a big disappointment. Danica Ferris reports. – Nov 13, 2020

Students in the Lethbridge College Powerline Technician program are calling on their school to deliver the program they believe they were promised, after they say hands-on opportunities have been taken away.

The pre-apprenticeship program is described on the college’s website as including “extensive hands-on and theoretical training,” but students say they aren’t receiving that practical experience.

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Brandon Salter says normally the 12-week program includes a two-week practicum placement with potential employers in the Lethbridge area, but those practicums were cancelled due to COVID-19.

He says he and his classmates understood the safety precaution, and were excited to make up that lost experience by building their own poles on college property. But at the end of October, not only was their class put further behind by a COVID-19 outbreak, they also found out that the pole building had been cancelled due to a lack of funding.

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“The plan was for us to go outside for two weeks, and for each crew to build their line,” Salter said.

“So we bought all the poles, the poles are in the ground, but then we had no hardware to put on the poles.”

Frustrated with practical experience being taken away, Salter says he and his classmates began emailing Sheldon Anderson, dean for the centre for trades.

“[We were] saying, ‘We paid all this money — we paid $9,000 — and what are we getting with this?’

“And you know there’s 22 people, times $9,000 in tuition, that’s $198,000, where is that money going?” Salter said.

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Anderson responded with a letter — provided to Global News by students — that said in part: “We have once again reviewed what is required and have found that we have substantially more equipment and materials than any other Powerline Technician course.

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“Industry has identified that the main indicator of success is passing the PLA (AIT Provincial Exam).”

Salter believes most students don’t attend Lethbridge College for that exam.

“There’s a bunch of [students] from B.C., some people from Saskatchewan, there’s one guy from New Brunswick, from Yellowknife, so people are coming from all around Canada for this program,” he said.

“He was saying that the determining factor, or the best thing to come out of this program, was being able to attempt the first-year AIT exam for Alberta.

“So for people from B.C., and from Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and Yellowknife, people that don’t plan on working in Alberta, that exam means nothing.

“It’s mandatory, so those people are coming for practical experience, and if they’re not getting that then they’re not getting anything from this program.”

Salter’s classmate Jay Vogelpohl said everyone in the class is frustrated, as 22 students try to share limited resources in a program that normally only accepts eight to 12 people.

“Half the tools that we have are kind of broken, missing, incomplete or we just don’t have enough of them because we have such a large class,” he said.

Vogelpohl believes the online delivery has also put many students at a disadvantage, with half sitting in class with their instructor and the other half trying to pay attention over Zoom.

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“When we had our very first test, the students that were in the half of the class with our instructor had everyone pass. The passing grade was 70 per cent. The other class, where everyone had to sit in the room and focus on the computer screen with the Zoom lesson, I believe only one person passed in that class,” he said.

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Global News asked Lethbridge College specifically about the funding and class size for the 12-week program, it responded with the following statement:

“Lethbridge College is committed to providing a meaningful educational experience for all students that meets the needs of industry and prepares students for fulfilling careers.”

“In the case of the Powerline Technician program, class delivery was affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, along with some technical difficulties beyond the college’s control,” the statement said.

The college would not answer a follow-up question requesting clarification of the technical difficulties.

“College leadership has met with program faculty to address these concerns and continues to work towards solutions that will ensure all course outcomes are met and students are provided with a high-quality educational experience,” the school said.

Salter said a few of his classmates have asked if partial tuition could be reimbursed to make up for the lost practical experience, and that the college has denied such requests.

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