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September’s “Fresh Start” and the Important Role Students Play in the Local Economy.

By Rhonda Keenan
Man and woman discussing small business ideas

September is always my favourite month. It gives us a second fresh start for the year, the fall colours are just beginning to show themselves, and we welcome back thousands of post-secondary students to the region. There is unspoken energy that happens each September and I look forward to it every year.

Students play a varied, but incredibly important role in this community; they are new visitors to this region, they are the workforce and skilled talent of the future. They bring new experiences, new cultures, and new ideas. Most importantly, they also bring youthful and optimistic energy – they are ready to take on the world and make a difference.

Each year, the Peterborough area welcomes over 14,000 full-time students to the region to attend Trent University, Fleming College and Seneca College Flight School. It is significant that a sizable proportion of those students are from outside the Peterborough area, including international destinations.  In 2020, Trent University completed an economic impact study that showed total Trent student expenditures in the region to be about $280 million which is the equivalent of 2,500 jobs. 

Fleming College also identified expenditures of students who relocated to the region add approximately $37.4 million in income to the economy. These students attend post-secondary to be able to enter or re-enter the workforce with their newly acquired skills.

Beyond skills and workforce, however, students benefit the community in any number of ways:

Students as visitors:

Students select their school for the programming offered, but also for the quality of life that they will experience while undertaking their studies. They want a destination that offers nightlife, recreational activities, a variety of cuisine, and entertainment. Trent University welcomed 4,000 new first-year students this September. For many, this community may be drastically different than their home community and they want to seek out new adventures and feel comfortable in this new environment. They do this by living in our neighbourhoods, by visiting those “must-see” sites, and by supporting local businesses in their purchases.

Trent University reports that 91% of their first-year students in 2021 were from outside of Peterborough, with enrolment numbers increasing by 37% from 2015 to 2020. That is a lot of new people testing out what it is like to live in Peterborough & the Kawarthas. It is our goal at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development to ensure that students are aware of the opportunities for them upon graduation and hope that many will turn this region into their permanent home.

Students as social advocates:

So many students are committed to social causes: gender equality, climate change, poverty, social justice, to name just a few. Many students learn about their new community by volunteering and giving their time to causes and organizations that support their ideals. Students are important to the community through their countless volunteer hours, but also for their new enthusiasm and fresh ideas to help advance their cause. It is through this volunteer work, that students build connections to the community, learn additional hands-on skills and make a difference in the world.

Students as future workforce:

Every business speaks about the importance of having the right workforce and talent for their ongoing success. Business is also finding it increasingly difficult to recruit for key positions. With the median age of the current workforce getting older, it is anticipated that retirements will create even more job openings in this region. Students are an excellent way to help fill those necessary jobs, learn new skills and support the economy. It is critical for businesses and organizations to build connections to our post-secondary institutions and create opportunities for our students in the future.

Ensuring that all businesses are meeting with the College and University, understanding their programs and which programs will create skills that can be used for business. Participating in co-ops, internships, or even applied projects for non-critical work is an excellent way for businesses to work with students, see what they are capable of, and build a relationship with those go-getters.

We are already seeing the creative and innovative programming that Fleming College is creating to be responsive to business needs. The Altitude Program was a competitive program that helped students hone their skills to be more attractive to employers in the aviation and aerospace sectors. Fleming College continues to look at future job demands and is building new programming to address local skill shortages. Trent University and the City of Peterborough are building Cleantech Commons, a future home for innovative clean technology-driven companies that will be a destination for many graduating students to get their start in the workforce. Students will be a strong presence in our community and the future of Peterborough & the Kawarthas relies on being a safe, welcoming, education hub for these students.

– Rhonda Keenan