Local students will prosper greatly if we guide them, give them the support they need, and train them for the in-demand jobs of tomorrow’s economy. That’s the main message to students from Michael Skinner, a local businessman and leader in the community running for the candidacy of the Conservative Party in Peterborough. I interviewed Skinner about student issues in the lead-up to a Trent Conservatives vote on who we would be endorsing in the run. He won in the end, and was endorsed last week by the Trent Conservatives.
Skinner, who is Co-Chair of the Trent Business Council, is probably best known to most students via one of his more prominent and popular downtown businesses, the Venue. The Venue has, over the last year, worked closely with the Trent Central Student Association and Trent Business Student Association on various fundraisers, such as Pub Nights, Pub Crawls, and Speaker Series events. But Skinner’s involvement with Trent goes far beyond that. He has worked with Trent’s JDCC team, helped the TBS launch a mentorship program, and through his work with the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster has been involved with The Cube, a “business incubator” located at Trent that helps local tech start-ups grow and succeed. Aside from his work with Trent, Skinner has also been working hard to promote Peterborough in general. He sits on the Peterborough Economic Development Board, and is one of the “Peterborough Angels,” a group of investors who help out new businesses in town.
Skinner believes that all levels of government have a role to play in education, and likens education to critical infrastructure that must be invested in. “I think it’s very important that we maintain education at all different levels [of government]. On a federal level we need to make sure that students are graduating, that there are grants provided, that if students want to open businesses, go to post-secondary school, that there is support for that.” He also emphasized the importance of the government helping guide students onto paths that will allow them to prosper. He pointed to a disconnect between the skills people are being trained for and the skills businesses need.
“We’re still graduating students for the careers of ten years ago, not the careers that are available today… We need a skills match so we make sure we understand what the economy needs and we are marketing that to students. So when they are picking a career, they are picking a career we will need in five years.” He’d also like to see students being taught financial literacy sooner and more prominently. He notes that whether you end up the owner of a multi-million dollar company, or end up just using the knowledge in your everyday life, it is still invaluable to have that understanding of finances.
That Skinner has a passion about students, innovation, and opportunities to foster prosperity, was evident throughout my talk with him. He consistently pointed out how students can be a driving force for success within the community, and talked highly of the business students at Trent he’s worked with. He noted that Peterborough is unique in that is has a high concentration of young business-minded students, and older retirees with the capital and experience to help them. “Take the young’s innovation and drive, and take the mentorship, capital, and leadership of older people,” said Skinner. “Put them together and you can build businesses.”
He pointed out that such business ventures create opportunity for everyone. Entrepreneurs will create the majority of new jobs in the region, and Skinner believes they need to be empowered to do so. He notes that efforts like the TBC’s mentorship program can help foster the relationships that will create such successful businesses in the future. Traditional internships can often become mundanely laborious, with students completing simple tasks with limited supervision. Skinner says the mentorship model is preferable, as it ties a student to a successful mentor and develops a meaningful relationship between them, allowing the student to really learn and gain experiences.
I asked Skinner why he thought he’d make a good MP for Peterborough and why he decided to run for the nomination. “The Peterborough Region needs a leader whose going to fight for us,” answered Skinner. “I was born and raised in Peterborough, this is my home, I love this place. Numerous times I could have left…I stayed here because I believe in it.”
And we believe in you, Mr. Skinner.