Northern College president Audrey Penner says the goal of the new Innovation Hub unveiled Thursday is to spearhead innovation in the region.
The 24,000-square-foot, $2 million facility will do that by providing the latest technologies to students who can build and practice the skills they need to succeed.
“The world is rapidly changing, the technology has to keep up,” said Penner.
“So we need to have state-of-the-art equipment to help people keep up with the technology. We could invest in that and continue to change and support the industry.”
College officials said they want to help employers address challenges like environmental sustainability in the wake of climate change, particularly when it comes to powering their operations.
That’s why the innovation hub has an alternate energy lab that lets students tinker with solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as hydrogen fuel cells.
“If industry has a problem, we want to be the ones that solve it,” said Aaron Klooster, vice-president of academic and student success.
“We want to help with those solutions because, in the process of solving those problems, our students learn the things they need to learn to be employable in really high-tech fields of work.”
Students will also work with virtual reality and its applications in different sectors.
The hub’s welding and machine shops have both state-of-the-art and legacy machinery. If students need extra parts, they can print them at the hub’s 3D printing lab.
College officials said the great thing about the hub is that students will walk away with a year’s worth of practical experience that they can take right into a career — either at a large employer, like a mine, or a small business like a manufacturer.
“They get into the field and they already know what they’re doing, there’s no more training,” said Timmins Chamber of Commerce president Dan Ayotte, who joined a tour of the facility.
“They’re trained here at the college and then they can probably get into the field and start working right away.”
Penner said the hub isn’t just about fitting into an industry – it’s also about finding ways to improve it.
She said one of the benefits of having an innovation facility within a college is that it makes testing emerging technology less expensive for businesses — and lets students build new skills.
“We can be a place where they can come and test things, try them out, ask us to test them and our students are the big winners in all of this,” said Penner.
Penner adds that with what she calls a second ‘mining boom’ coming to the region, her students are in a great position to not only be on the cutting edge of their industries … but to put their skills to work here in northeastern Ontario .