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Youth Force
Electrician apprentice can expect bright future

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

A co-op program that gives students a chance to try their hand at a variety of trades helps many choose a career, while others will be satisfied to walk away with valuable skills.

"The program is designed to give students exposure to different work environments," says Tom Nietman, a teacher from Central Collegiate Institute in Oshawa who oversees students at the residential construction site.
Bill White

"They work with framers, plumbers, concrete formers, drywallers and electricians," he says. "It gives them a better idea of what they want to do. Some will learn about a trade they didn't know about until now. Others will change their mind once they get to know more about a trade they thought they wanted to pursue."

Students will benefit from the experience, even if they decide they're not cut out for the trades. "They'll still have gained a lot of practical information they can use down the road, whether they're wiring a basement or hiring someone to do work for them," says Nietman.

The program is open to grades 11 and 12 students from both the Durham District School Board and the Durham Catholic District School Board. They spend two weeks in a co-op pre-placement program before heading off to a construction site for 16 weeks.

The experience has convinced Bill White that he wants to become an electrician.

"I worked in a whole lot of different areas," says White, 16, a student at Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic High School in Oshawa. "I've done framing and insulation. I've done labour for a brick crew, giving them mortar and setting up scaffolding.

"I've also done some electrical work and know that's what I really want to do," he says. "I like using my hands, and because it requires so much math, you're also using your head."

The program has given him a solid foundation in construction -- a foundation he tested at the Ontario Skills Competition. Eight teams of two students in the homebuilding competition tested their skills in plumbing, electrical, insulation, framing and drywalling.

"We had one hour for each trade," says the silver-medal winner. "We had to go quickly and do a good job at the same time."
"I like using my hands, and because it requires so much math, you're also using your head," says electrician apprentice Bill White.

After completing the co-op program, students can choose to register in a new carpentry program being launched this fall. They'll also sign up with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), allowing them to earn credits towards their diploma while the hours they work on the job are put towards journeyperson certification.

Students registered in the new program attend classes at Monsignor John Pereyma for several weeks, reports technical teacher Bill Weeks. They then attend Durham College for eight weeks to receive instruction from qualified carpenters.

The carpenters' union will arrange an apprenticeship job for each student. "They don't know how long it will last," Weeks says. "It could be two weeks or two years, depending on factors like the economy and the student's performance. After that, it's up to them to find work with help from the union, just like in the real world."

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

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