Fort McMurray's Keyano College lays off 19 staff

Keyano College has laid off 19 staff and had its carpentry program suspended, marking the beginning of efforts to reduce its 2020-21 fiscal year budget by $3 million.

Eight Canadian Union of Public Employees positions, 10 faculty and one administrator were let go by the college in February. 

The college will also be “transitioning several positions from permanent full-time to sessional, and eliminating one vacant position,” college president Trent Keough wrote in an email to staff last month.

Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training suspended the carpentry program at the college in February citing low enrolment.

Over the last decade the program averaged 13 apprentices each year, but needed 36 to be “financially viable,” Laurie Chandler, spokesperson for the minister of advanced education said.

The layoffs account for six per cent of staff and will save the college $1.3 million annually, Keough said, meaning the college still needs to find another $1.7 million. 

“These staffing reductions will be accompanied by an organizational restructuring which has yet to take place,” he said. “We cannot guarantee that further staffing reductions will not be necessary. These are difficult circumstances for all of us.”

Keough was not available to do an interview.

Lou Arab, spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, called the reductions “a shame” for Fort McMurray.

“It means much less money circulating in the economy,” he said.

The changes are unfortunate for young people in Fort McMurray who are unable to leave the community for post-secondary education, Arab said. 

Sarah Morin, 23, is a Fort McMurray resident who is weeks away from finishing her degree in business administration. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Sarah Morin, 23, who is weeks away from finishing her bachelor of business administration, said she’s nervous more programs will be cut.

During her years at the college, she said, she has watched programs disappear with a few human resources classes she’s taken no longer available. 

“We do need more funding for the education system, especially for a lot of people who want to do different programs,” Morin said. 

While her tuition at Keyano College was much cheaper than her options in Edmonton, she’s walking away with a degree and about $10,000 of debt. 

“It really sucks because there are so many people who end up getting so much debt … whenever they have to leave here and go somewhere else.” 

Keith Plowman calls the decision to suspend the carpentry program short-sighted. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Keith Plowman, president of the Fort McMurray Construction Association and owner of K Plowman Contracting, called the decision to cut the carpentry program short-sighted. 

“Some of the older people are starting to retire now,” Plowman said. “In the next 10 years we’re going to run into a shortage of skilled carpenters.”

The changes to Keyano are another blow to Fort McMurray’s image, he said. 

“We’re fighting an image battle, as it is, in the media and in the rest of Canada. And then there’s another article that says we’re closing something else. It’s just more negative.”

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