To ensure there are enough skilled trades workers to build our housing, we must start connecting with students at a young age and make them aware of the multitude of good-paying jobs in construction.
The trades are a pathway to obtaining hands-on valuable skills that last a lifetime. They offer unlimited advancement opportunities and allow young people to earn money while they are learning.
Students that don’t see themselves in college or university must know there are other options available. A rewarding career in the trades can also lead to positions in management or their own business.
As a recent caller to an Ottawa radio show put it, “There are too many English majors working at Starbucks.”
I have nothing against Starbucks, of course, but it’s a valid point.
Thankfully, the provincial government has made the connection and is launching a couple of bold new initiatives that will help more students enter the trades faster.
One initiative will enable students to leave school in Grade 11 to train as full-time apprentices for careers in the trades. The training will count for credits so teens can also graduate with a high school diploma.
This is a good, common-sense move that can put students on the pathway to an immensely rewarding career. The program allows students to gain the credentials that lead to meaningful employment.
The Ministry of Education is working to recognize up to 30 credits required to earn the Ontario Secondary School Diploma for individuals who receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship or equivalent.
Meanwhile, the government is looking at lowering entry-level requirements for some of the 106 skilled trades that currently require a Grade 12-level education to make it even easier for youth to enter the trades.
The second initiative starts in September 2024 and will require students to take at least one Technological Education credit in Grade 9 or 10 as part of their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The Technological Education curriculum covers a broad range of sectors, including construction, and hopefully will result in more women making the choice to pursue a career in the trades.
Presently, only about five per cent of the skilled trades are women so we have to open up more pathways for them to become apprentices.
Only about one per cent of high school graduates are registered apprentices. The average age of an apprentice is 29. That tells us we must do a better job of preparing our youth for careers in the trades.
Based on current forecasts, 72,000 new workers are needed in the construction sector alone by 2027 to fill open positions because of retirements and expected job growth. About one in five job openings in Ontario are projected to be in the skilled trades by 2026, so it is critical we get more young people to take up the tools.
As noted by Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton, for too long, parents and students have been told that the only path to succeed in life is by going to university. This is simply not true. A career in the skilled trades is a career that is with you for life.
An equally important part of the effort to get the youth into the trades is the role of the employer. We must provide more support and incentives for employers to hire apprentices, as most of the training is done on job sites.
Employers are the trainers, and we must recognize that by ensuring they have the tools and programs that encourage them to take on young people.
It is refreshing to see the provincial government making inroads by putting in place initiatives to reach youth at the high school level, so they know a career in the skilled trades is a viable career option.
There are huge opportunities for youth in the construction industry. We can not leave any stone unturned on this.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].