There’s going to be a surge in demand for skilled tradespeople in coming years, thanks to a dwindling supply of younger people equipped to replace an aging cohort of workers approaching retirement. One in five new jobs will be in the skilled trades by 2021, according to a recent report from the Ontario government.
Despite the benefits that come with pursuing a job in this sector—higher employment rates, increased wages, stability and opportunities of upward advancement—there is still a very real stigma around careers in the industry. In response, government agencies and employers have now launched outreach initiatives, from career fairs to youth apprenticeship programs, promoting the trades as a viable career path.
“It’s always been a good time to enter the trades,” saysRobert Bronk, CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat, an organization representing a number of unionized construction groups.
Considering a career in the trades? There are a number of opportunities to help decide on the right one.
1. Visit a career fair
While it’s been the norm for high school career fairs to showcase professions like dentistry and nursing, an increasing number now focus on careers in the trades.
Bronk argues career fairs help address a “lack of awareness” around jobs in the skilled trades industry. With the sheer number of trades available, from bricklaying to landscaping to baking, Bronk says students might miss exploring a trade suited to them because they didn’t consider it a career option.
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“Most people don’t know what a millwright even does,” said Bronk. “How can you google search something you didn’t even know existed?”
Promoting the trades at career fairs also gives younger attendees the benefit of connecting with apprentices currently training in the field who might be able to better relate to them compared to older journeymen.
2. Test out an apprenticeship through youth apprenticeship programs
High school students across Canada are able to explore the trades through various youth apprenticeship programs. Although apprenticeships will differ in structure depending on the province or territory in which they’re offered, each youth apprenticeship program gives teens the opportunity to workshop careers in the industry, while also gaining relevant work experience.
The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), for example, is structured in a way that gives students time to both explore different trades and train under journeymen. In their first semester, participants speak with skilled journeymen, visit training sites and conduct their own independent research into the trades available for pursuit. The second half of that apprenticeship consists of picking a trade, visiting a training site and shadowing skilled tradespeople.
Brock says high school apprenticeship programs are also helpful because they offer a “head start” to students looking to build their careers. Certain apprenticeships, such as the Accelerated Secondary Youth Apprenticeship Program in Prince Edward Island or the Youth Train in Trades program in British Columbia, let participating students have the hours they’ve spent training count towards fulfilling requirements for preliminary stages of their formal apprenticeship.
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Some high school level apprenticeships targeted at grades 11 and 12 also allow for the hours students spend training to contribute towards their high school diploma.
There are also pre-apprenticeship programs, for those looking to change career paths later in life. These are often run in partnership with unions and colleges. They train attendees in the academic fields, like math and science, needed to succeed at the trades while also providing an opportunity for hands-on experiential learning and the chance of an in-course work placement.
3. Enroll in a Summer Skills Camp
Skills camps are week-long summer programs aimed at students in grades seven through nine. Through a mix of hands-on activities, industry workshops and tours, campers are able to gain insight into what a career in the trades might look like.
One of the downsides to these camps is that they aren’t as widespread across Canada. But they do have the added benefit of introducing kids to the trades early on, when that age group might not have been traditionally educated on these careers in a school setting.
Skills Ontario, for example, hosts annual summer camps for students in different locations scattered across the province. Certain camps cater to groups otherwise underrepresented in the skilled trades, such as girls and youth from First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.
Emily Arrowsmith, project manager and researcher at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, says these specialized opportunities help connect mentors with mentees from similar backgrounds. “Young girls, for example, need to see other women in the trades to say, ‘Look, there’s somebody who does that and looks like me’,” she said.
This year, skills camps will be hosted across Saskatchewan. Camp locations in Regina this year, for example, will focus on robotics, the culinary arts and welding.
4. Attend a Skills Canada competition
Skills Canada hosts annual competitions across the country, giving apprentices the chance to compete against others and showcase what they’ve learnt—from baking a cake to troubleshooting a damaged refrigerator. Fairs take place across each of the 13 provinces and territories. Winners from local competitions will eventually move on to compete in a national competition and have the ability of progressing upwards to compete in a worldwide skilled trades competition.
Open to the public, competitions also serve as interactive fairs—tradespeople from the industry have their own booths featuring various hands-on activities designed to engage youth, says Arrowsmith. These fairs have the added benefit of “giving students an overview of all the different trades out there,” she says.
Aside from the array of interactive activities featured at booths, the virtual simulation modules that also make an appearance often times mimic ones used on-site at apprentice training centres.
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