We must do a better job of preparing youth for careers in trades

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By Richard Lyall
RESCON

When you look at the number of skilled trades that will be needed in construction and other industries in future, the figures are staggering. If a young person wants to get into the trades, now is the time.

In the construction sector alone, 72,000 new workers will be needed by 2027 to fill open positions because of retirements and expected job growth, according to BuildForce Canada. By 2026, one in five job openings will be in the trades, which means tens of thousands of openings in the construction sector.

To help deliver on infrastructure plans, including the target of building 1.5 million more homes by 2031, the industry must recruit more apprentices.

Dropping the ball

Yet, we know that only about one per cent of high school graduates register as apprentices. We have created a system for those who want to pursue studies at universities and colleges, but don’t have a comparable model for those who may be more inclined to take up a skilled trades apprenticeship.

We have dropped the ball on this.

The situation must be addressed, and we cannot leave any stone unturned. We must do a better job of preparing our youth for careers in trades.

I am pleased that the provincial government has recognized this issue and announced a program that will help get more Grade 11 students on the pathway into an apprenticeship in the skilled trades. The program will enable students to apprentice full-time and still earn their high school diplomas.

Individuals who earn a Certificate of Apprenticeship or equivalent will be granted credits so they can apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma as mature students.

In other words, the program will help students gain employment, as well as complete high school. It will put them on a rewarding career path that can also lead to opportunities in management or running their own business.

Taking up a trade does not in any way restrict someone’s ability to continue with their education. In Germany, for example, many youth are now taking up the trades first, and getting their MBAs afterwards.

Common-sense move

The government program is a good, common-sense move that can put students on the pathway to a rewarding career in well-paid jobs. The program is receiving accolades from a wide swath of the construction world, including employers and the unionized and non-unionized sectors. It enables students to become a skilled trades apprentice and earn while they learn.

Although the market has softened, the residential construction industry will recover and demand for the trades will pick up. When it does, students who have started their apprenticeships stand to benefit.

The government is also introducing a second initiative that starts in fall 2024, requiring students to take at least one technological education credit in Grade 9 or 10.

And this fall, the province will also begin consultations with employers, unions, education stakeholders, trainers, parents and others about ways to make it even easier youth to get into the trades. One proposal is to lower entry requirements for some trades that require a Grade 12 education. It is critical for students who don’t see themselves in college or university to have career options.

Students will be able to enter the trades faster than ever before to help build Ontario and put them on pathways to good-paying jobs and rewarding careers. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to the trades still exists. For years, parents and guidance counsellors have been pushing students to pursue academic studies in colleges and universities.

This must change.

Upon graduation, many with diplomas and degrees can’t find jobs in their field, and end up in unrewarding positions.

Enormous opportunities

Past studies have told us that individuals with a trades certificate earn considerably more than those with only a high school diploma and even those with a college degree. If we could help those who don’t plan to go to university or college become an apprentice, they’d be much better off.

Construction retirements continue to outpace recruitment of new entrants and, according to BuildForce Canada, by 2027 the sector is expected to have a gap of 18,000 workers that will need to be filled from outside the province’s existing construction labour force to meet increased demands.

The bottom line? For young people thinking about their career options, there are enormous opportunities ahead. A career in the skilled trades is a career for life.

Richard Lyall

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. media@rescon.com.