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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Building bridges to the trades

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

When teachers approached Nick Di Adamo about taking a college-based Computer Numerical Control (CNC) programming course while he was still in high school, he figured he had nothing to lose.

"I had no clue what CNC was about, but I didn't have any idea about what I was going to do when I graduated, so I thought I'd give it a try," says Di Adamo, 19, who was attending St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Maple.
Computer Numerical Control (CNC) student Nick Di Adamo, working with the HAAS VF1 Machining Centre at Seneca College. He was introduced to the course through the North York Catholic School Board's Bridges to Manufacturing Technology program.

After his first project, which involved creating a computer program that instructed a CNC machine to produce his initials in steel, Di Adamo was hooked. He has since gone on to complete the one-year CNC course offered at Seneca College and has turned down several job offers in order to complete a tool and die-making course that will complement his skill set.

That's just one success story from a Bridges to Manufacturing Technology program created last year by the York Catholic District School Board in partnership with Seneca College Centre for Advanced Technologies.

That type of success has earned the school board the 2002 Yves Landry Foundation Award, which recognizes innovation in education that focuses on technical careers, skills development and preparing students for college, university and the workplace.

The award, which includes a $5,000 grant for the program, was presented Nov. 7 at the STARS Technological Education Gala at Toronto's Sheraton Centre.

"The program is hands-on and responsive to industry needs. By incorporating leading-edge technology in classroom curriculum, students can design and produce projects that are relevant to industry," says Sarkis Kay, co-ordinator of the board's Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Co-operative Education and School to Career programs.

The program introduces Grade 11 and 12 students to equipment they don't traditionally have access to at high school - all while earning credits towards their secondary school diploma. Those who pursue their studies in the Seneca Mechanical Technique Program enjoy advanced standing and a chance to earn a $500 scholarship.

Last year, six of 18 students taking part in the program followed that option. "It was great that so many found it interesting enough to make it their career choice," says Ken Ellis, program co-ordinator at Seneca.

"It exposes them to career opportunities in metal cutting," says Ellis, pointing to everything from golf putters to computer keyboards and automobile prototypes. "None of those things would exist without dies or moulds that allow us to mass produce products."

CNC graduates can expect to work as machine operators in a variety of manufacturing facilities that rely on conventional or computer manufacturing systems. They can also seek employment with small firms using manual and CNC machining equipment.

"The skill set needed in the industry has shifted quite dramatically," says Lawrence Cotton, head of technology at St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Thornhill. He worked with instructors from Seneca in order to be able to teach the course to high school students at the York board.

"CNC students need to have good math skills and very good computer skills," Cotton says. "They also need a certain confidence, because it takes strength of conviction to push that button. But when they do, they feel like a million dollars."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at

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