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Canada wants skilled tradespeople

The numbers are in, and they are daunting. According to the Conference Board of Canada, there will be a shortage of more than 360,000 skilled trade workers by 2025, and that number could increase to more than 500,000 by 2030.

In other words, that’s a lot of people that the skilled trades must attract to keep Ontario competitive.

Alan Reid, associate dean in the School of Skilled Trades at Oakville’s Sheridan College, says he is confident that the trades have a robust future in Ontario, but did admit there are hurdles. 

As an example, Reid points to the global recession of 2008. 

The North American manufacturing sector took a real beating and it led to a sense among the public that jobs like machinist and tool-and-dye maker would not be in demand in the future. 

This, says Reid, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Right now, the trades are very much in demand and the number one request from industries is for machinists and tool and dye makers. But some parents and teachers and guidance counsellors are saying to students, “No, don’t follow that path.”

The future of Ontario’s economy depends on the province’s tradespeople and the Ontario College of Trades, the province’s member-driven regulatory body for the skilled trades, is doing everything it can to actively promote the trades.

So far, the effort has been robust. The college is currently participating in programs like the Ontario Technological Skills Competition. This is a yearly event that brings together young people studying a skilled trade or technology to compete. In addition, the college will also be reaching out by partnering with parenting and career expert, Dr. Karyn Gordon.

“Attracting people to this career path is a priority,” says the college’s chief executive officer, David Tsubouchi. “We’re confident that we can reach many of the talented young people in high school classrooms and in workshops across this province to show them that working in this field is highly rewarding and worthwhile.” 

Women are also excelling in skilled trades. In 1988, Liane Quevillon was working as an administrative assistant in a small northern Ontario electrician’s office. 

She was sitting at her desk when her boss phoned to say he was short-staffed, and asked if she could do some field work.

“I had always worked with my father and my uncles, so I decided to take him up on his offer,” she says. 

Twenty-six years later, Quevillon is a certified journeyperson electrician, a small business owner and an electrical apprenticeship instructor at Collège Boréal.

“My career has certainly evolved over time,” she says.

“And it has been good, rewarding.”

The 49-year-old Sudbury resident says that, growing up, she always quite enjoyed working with her hands, and that making a career out of her talents held more appeal than sitting in an office all day.

“And the money in electrical work was much better,” she points out. “That was a good incentive too.”

She says she always tells her students: Don’t think you will be in the same job forever. This career can take you places.

There have been hurdles, however. 

When she started working as an electrician, there were very few women in the trades. 

And the money female electricians made – though perhaps better than an office worker – was far lower than their male counterparts.

“There was a big wage difference. I remember when my brother became an electrician he made $5 or $10 per hour more than me.”

There is still a significant gender imbalance in the trades: women make up less than three per cent of registered apprentices in the industrial and construction trades. 

The Ontario College of Trades says it is well aware of the gender gap and is working hard to promote this career path to young people, particularly underrepresented groups such as women.

“The college is working with many groups like Skills Canada-Ontario and school boards to achieve this,” says Tsubouchi. 

“We are partnering with experts to promote mentors in the trades and we are also looking at social media opportunities to reach out to young people.”

The effort is starting to pay off. According to the Ontario government, the number of females in apprenticeship training is increasing, with women now representing 19 per cent of apprentices in the province.

“I like where the College of Trades is going in terms of promoting to youth,” says Quevillon. 

She responds modestly about her own accomplishments in a male-dominated field, but with some prodding she does acknowledge achievements during her career.

“It hasn't been easy, but I've worked hard. I guess you could say I'm a bit of a pioneer.”

Traverse a life less ordinary, says Michelle Smaglinski, one of a growing number of Canadian youth embracing a skilled trade. 

When Smaglinski was in high school, she thought she had her life all planned out. “I was supposed to go to university, get my degree and get a job in an office somewhere.”

Four years later, the 21-year-old Hamilton native isn’t quite finished with her education, but she certainly isn’t spending her days slouching in a cubicle at some office.

And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love being in the trades. It’s really rewarding work. I like the feeling of having accomplished something at the end of the day.”

Smaglinski is a third-year electrical apprentice at Mohawk College, and a member of the Ontario College of Trades. 

She describes her work in the industry as “challenging,” and decried the myth that a career in trades isn’t intellectually demanding.

“There are a number of technology aspects that you have to master, and you have to be able to learn on the job, as well as in the classroom,” she points out. 

“And you can make great money. I like the idea of earning while I’m learning and unlike my friends in university, I will finish my training with no debt.”

The Ontario College of Trades is the regulatory body for the skilled trades. 

It has a mandate to protect consumers as well as promote this career of choice to young people like Smaglinski. And it’s a worthy mission.

With organizations like the Conference Board of Canada predicting that there will be a shortage of more than 360,000 skilled workers by 2025, and possibly 560,000 by 2030, the college says it is crucial that more young people embrace a career in the trades.

“Many students in community colleges have made up their minds to do it, and so have mature students looking for a career change,” says David Tsubouchi. 

“But this kind of career path thinking should also start in high schools and primary schools. Social media can reach them, so can YouTube, plus our micro site also communicates with students directly.”

Tsubouchi also points out that programs like the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) are making significant headway in showing students that a career in the trades can be lucrative and worthwhile. 

The best advocates for getting more young people to embark on a career in trades, says Tsubouchi, might be actual tradespeople, like Michelle Smaglinski.

“It’s hard work, but every day is different,” she says. “I  really love that about the trades.”

                                                                                                                               – News Canada 

Posted: Apr 29, 2014

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