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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Plumber's career isn't a pipe dream

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun

Imagine the benefits of a system that releases confident, educated, skilled and experienced graduates into the world.

The York Catholic District School Board (YDCSB), in co-operation with community business and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, offers such a system. It's called the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), and it gives students the opportunity to apprentice in a skilled trade, under the careful guidance of co-op educators, while simultaneously earning high school credits.
"I really enjoy what I'm doing and I learn something every day," says plumbing apprentice Jeremy Mathieson.

Jeremy Mathieson, a senior at Sacred Heart Catholic High School, is a great example of OYAP's success. Poised to graduate this month, Mathieson's story began with a conscientious step toward career exploration.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do," Mathieson says. "So I tried a co-op placement with J & S Plumbing & Service Inc. -- it turned into a plumbing apprenticeship."

"J & S Plumbing is an innovative company that is showing Jeremy all angles of the trade," says Ron Dorcas, co-op coordinator at Sacred Heart C.H.S. "He's part of everything, from service calls to custom home construction. J & S also specializes in radiant floor heating and snow melt systems, giving Jeremy an even wider spectrum of quality training."

The advantages for Mathieson are clear. But J & S Plumbing sees a mutually beneficial relationship.

"It's hard to find good workers -- by taking people from the schools, we can give them the calibre of training we want, right from the start," says Joe Rizzi, a licensed plumber and owner of J & S Plumbing. "OYAP is a great system because the schools carefully screen the kids and prepare them for the work experience -- in fact, it works so well, it's part of our hiring policy."

Clearly, J & S Plumbing has a good understanding of the mandate set forth by YDCSB and the ministry.

"The schools' objective is to make OYAP work for the students and employers," Dorcas says. "After we find a good fit, we maintain contact with both. Jeremy is required to attend regular 'reflective classes' in which we emphasize job skills, time management and team work. We also share insights from fellow OYAP students and deal with issues as they arise."

Employers sign off on skills mastered by the apprentice and are encouraged to relay any relevant information to the co-op teachers. An OYAP consultant is also involved.

"We have to justify the credits the student is earning," Dorcas explains.

Since his attachment to OYAP, Mathieson's progress has been exceptional.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing and I learn something everyday," Mathieson says. "It's like a weight's been lifted -- I have a real goal and a way to achieve it. Even my family life has improved because the stress of finding a direction is gone."

After Mathieson graduates, he will continue his apprenticeship at J & S Plumbing. He needs 9,000 hours of skilled training, and when his supervisor deems him ready, he'll begin his first of three blocks of college classes.

Says Rizzi, "Jeremy will learn more at college when he's had a bit more practical exposure. So far, he's doing really well -- under supervision, he's roughing in drainage for new homes, installing pipes, toilets and sinks -- he also helps with service calls. We're like a tight-knit family and he fits right in."

OYAP is a collaboration that brings purpose and direction to a young person's pursuit of a prosperous future. This in turn brings confidence, which feeds the cycle of success.

Says Rizzi, "I wish we had OYAP when I was finding my way."

(Aunie Edwards ( is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)

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