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Nothing virtual about it: students have real future in skilled trades, tech careers

Austin Barkhouse, 16, and Kai Smart, 15, both Grade 10 students at Wolfville's Landmark East School, look over their robot programming code with Acadia Robotics assistant Heather Travers, who works within the university's computer science program.
Austin Barkhouse, 16, and Kai Smart, 15, both Grade 10 students at Wolfville's Landmark East School, look over their robot programming code with Acadia Robotics assistant Heather Travers, who works within the university's computer science program. - Sara Ericsson

Skills Nova Scotia event showcases virtual reality, robotics and other technologies as career options for students

WOLFVILLE – Virtual reality and robotics are two technologies students can study and pursue that lead to great careers, but there’s just one problem – many students don’t know about these options.

Getting students to consider these along with other skilled trades and technologies as future careers was the goal at the Skilled Futures in Technology Event May 9 at Acadia.

The event was put on by Skills Nova Scotia and hosted a series of first-hand workshops in technologies including robotics, virtual reality, motion capturing, 2D animation and coding to show them.

Evangeline Middle School Grade 8 student Jenna Guy wears motion capturing sensors at the event's Motion Capture Applications workshop, run by Acadia.
Evangeline Middle School Grade 8 student Jenna Guy wears motion capturing sensors at the event's Motion Capture Applications workshop, run by Acadia.

Grade 10 Landmark East School students Kai Smart and Austin Barkhouse tackled the robotics event as a team and said neither of them had considered it as a career before having a go at programming the motion-sensing robot.

“It’s cool and a little bit different – you have to organize these blocks on the computer for it to understand and read what you’re telling it to do,” said Smart.

“It’s pretty interesting how it has motion sensors and that programming can change how it responds to them,” said Barkhouse.

60 students from Grade 8 to 11 participated in the various workshops led by Acadia, REDSpace, WISE Atlantic and the province’s Department of Education.

Skills NS marketing and communications manager Shannon Campbell said this meant the students got to learn from the institutions and industry members that could one day employ them.

And with a trades deficit of thousands, it’s a good time to get involved. Increasing exposure to these skilled trades is the main goal for the nonprofit Skills NS, which seeks to create opportunities for these students to discover a new passion they may have otherwise missed.

Kings County Academy Grade 8 student Tim O'Connor jumps at the motion capturing workshop with a machine using motion tracking equipment that measures his height.
Kings County Academy Grade 8 student Tim O'Connor jumps at the motion capturing workshop with a machine using motion tracking equipment that measures his height.

“There are career options out there that aren’t getting the publicity they should and that the students haven’t seen in action,” she said.

“These are the industries that need people in their fields. They’re here today and are hoping this leads to eventual recruitment of these kids.”

Acadia Robotics assistant Heather Travers led the robotics workshop where students programmed small, wheeled robots to stop when a solid object obscured their path. Most of the students had never coded before yet caught on quickly – something Travers said is not at all surprising.

“These students are probably the biggest generation that’s never not had technology – there’s not a career in the future these students will face that won’t be touched by it,” she said.

“And today they’re using critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving and observational feedback – all skills they’ll need for the future.”

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