As a co-op teacher for more than 20 years, Don Richardson has hooked many students into rewarding careers that complement their interests. So when his twin sons struggled at school, he tapped into what he knew best and is watching each thrive as apprentices in their respective trades.
One son, Andrew, is apprenticing as an interior designer, while the other, Graeme, has joined a house-building project with Mattamy Homes at Morningside and Finch Avenues that allows him to rotate through the trades before settling into one he finds most rewarding.
OYAP apprentice Graeme Richardson, left, receives guidance from his father, co-op teacher Don.
"Like many kids, my sons were having a hard time finding the connection between school and the real world," says Don, a teacher at Toronto's Sir Sandford Fleming Academy. "School wasn't hands-on enough."
He encouraged each to consider the trades. "It was always an option that was okay to discuss."
Not all parents see the trades as a viable option. "It's been an uphill battle," says Don, who's been teaching 31 years. "It has been difficult getting kids and even parents interested in the trades."
His own children are thriving. Graeme, for instance, is extremely motivated. "For the first time in a year, he has been excited about learning," Don says. "As a parent, it's wonderful to see."
On the job since September, Graeme is committed to a future in the trades. "As soon as I heard about the project, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I have always liked working with my hands," says the 19-year-old.
He has taken a field trip to Local 27 to learn more about apprenticing following graduation. He plans on becoming a framer, but hopes to work with plumbers and electricians before graduating in January.
Don is pleased to see students exploring the trades through co-op and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.
"They have everything to gain and nothing to lose," he says of OYAP, which allows students to earn credits toward their diploma while the hours they work on a job are applied to journeyperson certification. They have a chance to earn a salary and receive financial assistance towards the purchase of necessary tools and clothing.
The program is open to students 16 years and older who have completed Grade 10. Students who find they're not suited to the trades can return to a regular school program after one semester with no penalty.
While auto mechanics and hairdressing have traditionally been popular trades, Don sees more students interested in becoming an electrician or carpenter -- perhaps because of the boom in housing construction.
"From a teacher's point of view, it's really wonderful to have a student say, 'Yes. This is where I want to go' and see them settle into a trade."
Many students are surprised to learn how lucrative the trades can be.
"When I talk to kids about the kind of money they can make and the options available to them, their eyes light up," Don says. "When I tell them about what my sons are doing, they understand how much I believe in the trades."
(Linda White is a freelance writer based in
Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at
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