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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Apprentices fill growing skilled trades gap

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun


He's just 20 years old, has graduated from high school and has spent three years working as a carpenter apprentice. In just a few more months, Russell Rumble will complete his final level of training and will have the tools needed to become a licensed journeyperson.

"It was a great experience getting to the job site as early as I did," says the King City resident. "I've worked constantly since I started my apprenticeship."

Rumble is among thousands of skilled tradespeople who launched their career through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. OYAP is a school-work transition program that allows students to begin training in a skilled trade while they're still in high school.

Students receive co-operative education credits through placement in an apprenticeship occupation while completing their diploma. The hours they work on the job are put towards journeyperson certification.

"It was an eye opener," Rumble says of OYAP. "I got to think about where my future was going and here I am already. I look at friends who still aren't as far along as I was in Grade 11."

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities reformed the apprenticeship system and launched OYAP in 1998 in a bid to attract students like Rumble to the trades at a younger age.

Enrolment in OYAP has increased from 1,300 students in 1998 to more than 12,000 in 2002/03.

The need for skilled tradespeople continues to grow, reports ministry spokesperson Dave Ross. He points to construction millwrights as an example: Currently, there are 28,360 in the province, but that number will decrease by one-third by 2015.

"We are starting to fill the gap, but not enough," Ross says of the shortage of skilled tradespeople. "It's a frightening picture."

The ministry is working to meet industry needs and wants to increase the number of students registered in OYAP to 23,000. It tripled OYAP funding to $6 million in 2002/03 and committed another $1 million last February, Ross reports.

"We're making a lot of ground and are generating interest in the trades," he says. "Many students didn't consider what kind of career they could have in the trades."

He believes OYAP is also successful in encouraging students to stay in school, giving many a goal to work toward.

But employer participation is key to the program's success because they must commit to training apprentices.

"Our goal is to encourage greater industry ownership of the system," Ross says.

Employers like Shelley Machine & Marine in Sarnia recognize the value of apprenticeship.

"We had one of the first OYAP students in our county," says president and general manager John Shelley, Jr.

"We now takes four or five students from area high schools and colleges each semester," he says. "We will sign up every student under OYAP if the student and teacher are committed."

Introducing students to opportunities in the trades at an early age is key to meeting industry needs, says David Santi, manager of human relations development at Dofasco in Hamilton.

The company has a strong tradition of hiring apprentices and is now working with OYAP coordinators to determine how it can offer that experience to high school students.

"We highly endorse OYAP...and want to see how we can structure useful learning in a safe environment," Santi says. "We are very supportive of getting young people to consider the trades."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at linda.white@rogers.com.)



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