Advanced Grain Handling Systems (AGHS) in Brinston recently took on two high school co-op students from St. Mary Catholic High School in Brockville and is introducing them to tradeswork. Donovan McNeilloy (left) said he has wanted to be an electrician since Grade 8, while Colton Plumley said his interest is in welding and millwrighting. They are pictured in front of an AGHS-designed and built hopper. Courtesy Photo

Sandy Casselman
Record Staff

BRINSTON – Advanced Grain Handling Systems (AGHS) is moving full steam ahead, developing, creating, installing, and growing.

Since AGHS got its start in Brinston roughly 12 years ago, the business has grown to include several new services, as well as additional skilled tradespersons to keep everything moving and growing. With another location in Brantford, AGHS services all of Ontario, as well some parts of Western Canada. Today, between the two locations, the company employs 50 people with plans to expand up to 75 people this summer, but it wasn’t always that big.

“We started just building grain bins,” operations manager Ian Streight said.

Although they were busy, the work was seasonal, which created some challenges in finding and keeping skilled workers, Streight said. He noted that, as one might expect, most people don’t like being laid off, and so the AGHS team found ways to grow and evolve that would allow them to offer some permanent full-time positions.

“We looked at ways we could benefit the company plus maintain our critical staff,” Streight said, adding that the company focus is diversification.

It began with the Fabrication Shop, which was started to keep employees busy during the slow winter months. With this addition, they were able to hire millwrights, machinists, and electricians. Streight said the creation of the Fabrication Shop was important because it allowed AGHS to keep its key staff and, since then, they have grown to the point where they now have created six full-time positions in addition to avoiding seasonal layoffs for other employees.

“We have that real family feel and we’re here for each other. Everyone wants to see the company grow,” Streight said.

While AGHS focuses on selling and building grain bins, Streight said the Fabrication Shop, one of two new service additions, is where they manufacture their own material handling parts. They also added an Agriculture Commercial Industrial (ACI) division. ACI services include electrical, millwrighting and rigging. AGHS also has a engineering group that designs and plans projects specifically for each customer, this allows AGHS to provide customers with complete turn-key solutions.

A few years ago, with two millwrights and two electricians on staff full-time, AGHS was able to start offering apprenticeships. The program worked quite well, Streight said, noting it not only gave apprentices the experience they needed, but also gave AGHS access to more skilled tradespeople.

“There’s lots of interest. Everybody likes the opportunity,” Streight said.

Most recently, the company’s Brinston location took on two high school co-op students from St. Mary Catholic High School in Brockville who are looking to become skilled tradespersons themselves. Both in their final year of high school, Colton Plumley said his interest is in welding and millwrighting, while Donovan McNeilloy said he has wanted to be an electrician since Grade 8.

“They’re learning to weld and to use the machinery,” Streight said, adding that they have been offered summer positions where they will be part of the grain bin crew and the millwright crew. In addition to paying well, he said the students will have the opportunity for an apprenticeship when one comes available. “It’s why co-op students fit well. The job pays well, and they learn the industry from the ground up.”

Streight said he would like to see the co-op placement program continue. He said he is hoping to meet with both Seaway District High School in Iroquois and North Dundas District High School in Chesterville to hopefully bring on some first semester students in the fall. He noted that skilled trades are not offered in the high schools like they once were and that’s where AGHS can help.

“I’d like to have it as an ongoing thing. It’s nice to do some good stuff for the community you work in,” he said, adding that he’d like to expand the co-op program to the company’s Brantford location, as well. “I think it’s a great opportunity for these kids to get out and learn a trade and to find out if that’s what they want to do for a living. They’re trained from the ground up the way we want them trained for the ag sector.”

With a focus on safety and training, Streight said the company’s Brinston location is currently able to work with just two co-op students at a time, but it is something he would like to see grow. He said there is lots of opportunity in this sector for people who are willing to work. The AGHS crew work collaboratively together, and employees are trained on several machines, almost all of which require computer knowledge and skills. In addition to offering skilled trades’ work, AGHS is also ready to help those students interested in general labour.

“They can make a good living and still live in their community without having to move,” he said. “We really pride ourselves on helping local people and providing jobs for local people.”

While things slowed down a bit during the first COVID-19 lockdown, Streight said AGHS has been busy. He said the company and its employees have been fortunate, as the work this year has been non-stop. He said waiting on parts or getting some materials and supplies might be slower than usual, but they are able to incorporate that into their planning.

“We have a really good bunch of people. Everybody here is happy to help someone out,” Streight said. “We want to grow. There’s a strong ambition to grow and we’re setting ourselves up for that.”

AGHS sells and installs grain handling equipment for the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. They are an official Brock Grain Bin dealer. They are CWB certified and do custom fabrication work, servicing all of Ontario. If you check out their website (aghs.ca) you will discover that they have a vast amount of knowledge and experience in grain conditioning, handling, and storage needs. They deal in bins, hopper tanks, sweeps, unloading systems, conveying systems, grain spreaders, centrifugal or axial fans, heater, or automated control systems, and more. The Eastern Ontario location is stationed at 4124 County Road 16 in Brinston.

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