Working with schools to promote trades education
By Andrew Macklin
No matter where I go or what business owner I talk to, the question remains the same: how will I replace my skilled labourers in the next five to 10 years?
It is a question on the minds of not just this industry, but any other where the amount of pay that can be offered doesn’t reach the heights of the lucrative oil and gas industry in Alberta, or the remnants of the automotive sector still clinging to the handful of plants that remain in southern Ontario.
Industries like aggregate production and road construction are left to fight for those who stay in the communities where we operate, choosing friends and family over the more financially-enriching opportunities elsewhere.
And yet, the financial opportunities our industry can offer, when compared to the attainable alternatives for the majority of the next generation, is in itself lucrative. This industry offers solid starting salaries with opportunities for additional training and job growth within most operations. Yes, there is reason for young students to look to heavy construction as a viable source of financial stability in any community that they may wish to call home.
But in order to make this a realistic choice for students working their way through the hallways of our local high schools, work must continue to be done to remove the stigma of the trades that still exists in the boardrooms and school counselor offices in our secondary level academic institutions.
With that in mind, I was greatly encouraged by the work done by Conestoga College, and its academic partners at the secondary school level, in its presentation of the second Jill of all Trades event (see full story on page 32). The event engages high schools within eight secondary school boards to bring female high school students to the college for a day of exposure to the trades. It is a day when these girls can be engaged in the hands-on experiences that work in the trades has to offer, and provide real-life examples of the personal, professional and financial success that can be found in industries like ours.
This represents a solid step forward in encouraging young people into careers in the trades. Even more so, it reaches out to a severely under-represented demographic of our society, women, which makes up only one-to-two per cent of the workforce in many trades in Canada.
As institutions like community colleges make headway in promoting the trades to secondary school-age students throughout the country, part of the onus now falls on us as an industry to help this progress forward. Now more than ever, the leaders among the industry need to reach out to students from the ages of 14-21 to show them the stability and financial opportunity that exists in the skilled trades. Whether it is by contacting schools to make presentations to classes and parent groups, participating in school career fairs, or working with colleges to pursue these students, it is up to the industry to encourage students to look this way while they work towards establishing their future career path.
If we want to ensure that there is no skilled trades problem in the next five to 10 years, then we must be part of the solution.