Building Partnerships for Hands-on Learning Experiences

VIU Building Partnerships for Hands-on Learning Experiences

VIU Carpentry Instructors Joe Blain & Cam Frenette at KSG Consulting Ltd. homebuilding worksite.

June 24, 2020 - 10:15am

Community partnership ensures VIU carpentry students continue to get experience working on a real construction site while maintaining physical distancing guidelines.

Experiential learning is vital for construction trades students to gain the skills they need to enter the homebuilding sector, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw a new challenge at the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Carpentry program this year – how to give students these experiences while following physical distancing guidelines.  

“We knew we needed to get our students out on-site, so it was a question of how are we going to do that in a safe way,” says instructor Joe Blain.  

The Carpentry department and long-time Nanaimo home builder Ken Grewal, owner of KSG Consulting Ltd., have devised a workable solution that promotes the health and safety of the students while providing every one of them practical training in real-world home building. 

KSG is currently building houses in a small development in north Nanaimo. Grewal is allocating the construction of a detached duplex in this development to the fall 2020 Carpentry Foundation program, which will allow the full class of 18 students to work on-site at the same time, with half in each unit to ensure the necessary physical distancing requirements are adhered to.  

Additional safety measures and protocols are being implemented such as issuing students their own set of tools to use on-site along with a storage container to keep them separated, sanitizing the tools and sanitizing high-touch points twice daily. They have also built an isolated wash station and procedures have been implemented for face-to-face instruction. 


“We've consulted WorkSafeBC, The Canadian Home Builders Association and the BC Construction Safety Alliance and have done extensive planning to make sure we maintain a safe work environment,” says Cam Frenette, VIU Carpentry Instructor. “Just because COVID came around doesn't mean that our job as instructors has stopped. We teach workplace safety in all of our trades classes, and this is an additional layer of safe practice our students are learning.” 

The Carpentry Foundation program covers the basic carpentry skills required to prepare students for employment as a carpenter apprentice in the building industry. The curriculum seeks an effective balance between hands-on learning activities and specific academic and theoretical components.

VIU Building Partnerships for Hands-on Learning Experiences

Under the new hybrid learning platform, students will benefit from more time on a construction site than in previous years. The first six weeks of classes will be online followed by 22 weeks on-site. 

“Maximizing time on the tools is what it’s all about for the foundation students,” says Frenette. “This ended up being a perfect fit for our program with the two smaller houses being built beside each other because we can have all 18 students learning and working 100% of the time.”  

KSG has provided opportunities for instructors to bring students onto active construction projects for the past five years.  

“It’s been a good relationship and we are always looking for ways to get more people into the industry, whether it’s my company or other companies that are doing the hiring,” says Grewal. “For a lot of the students this is their first time on a construction site and learning how the process works and how different trades come and go gives them a better perspective about what it takes to build a house.” 

Carpentry foundation students who will graduate at the end of this summer are currently getting on-the-job-training on another KSG single home construction project.  

VIU Building Partnerships for Hands-on Learning Experiences

Carpentry student Noah Windsor says students were worried that because of COVID they wouldn’t be allowed on a job site.  

“The amount of planning that went into creating this opportunity for students is appreciated by everyone,” he says. “With hands-on experience, there’s a different aspect of learning that happens and having consistent time with the tools provides an opportunity to really get comfortable with them.”



Annette Lucas, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.618.7296 | E:

Tags: Carpentry | community | Trades and Technology | Teaching and Learning

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