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Youth Force
Apprentice launches plumbing career

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

For a hands-on learner interested in becoming a plumber, working alongside experienced plumbers has allowed Michael Bonk to test the waters and see if he has what it takes to launch a successful career in the trade.

"I don't like sitting in a classroom," says Bonk, a Grade 12 student at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute. "I like building and inventing things."
Michael Bonk

The 18-year-old decided to explore plumbing through a co-op placement in Grade 11. At the same time, he registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, allowing him to accumulate hours towards journeyperson certification while earning credits towards his high school diploma.

Bonk had enjoyed helping his father on projects around the house, and his parents, both elementary school teachers, encouraged him to follow his heart. Since beginning his co-op placement, his marks have improved dramatically, and he now achieves an A-average.

As an apprentice with C.R. Plumbing & Heating in Etobicoke, Bonk has worked on commercial and residential projects, including home renovations and installing boiler/heating systems.

"I watch everyone and see how they do it. I catch on pretty quickly like that," Bonk says. He was hired by the company to work as a summer student, and dreams of owning his own business after completing his apprenticeship and gaining more experience.

His employer, Chris Young, recognizes the value in training the next generation of tradespeople. "We have to have younger guys who can take over when the older guys start to retire," Young says. "A lot want to get a start, but many companies won't employ them without experience."
OYAP plumbing apprentice Michael Bonk is supervised by master plumber Chris Young.

He's been pleased with Bonk's eagerness to learn. "Michael can run pipe, solder joints, break up floors, work on breakers. He runs out and grabs what we need. It makes a big difference on the job to have someone who can do those things and who knows the different materials we use."

In addition to a willingness to learn, Young looks for apprentices who show respect for other people's property, are prompt and have a neat appearance, since they're often working in people's homes.

Exploring a career while still in high school offers countless benefits, says Rori Schenk, co-op teacher at Etobicoke CI.

"A lot of kids are going to college or university and don't know if they'll have a job or even want they'll want to be," Schenk says. "Kids like Michael are all set. He has a job and he has experience. It's incredible. It's an amazing program."

OYAP is open to students aged 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.

OYAP students must meet established training standards. "It encourages employers to give them a variety of tasks," Schenk says. "It gives kids more exposure to the trade."

Many students develop a new sense of confidence and are more aware of their goals thanks to a work experience," Schenk says. Students develop a mature attitude during a co-op experience, something you don't see in the classroom setting."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at

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