By Aunie Edwards
Special to the Toronto Sun
In a province dealing with double cohorts, cautious government funding and an increasingly competitive global economy, is it any wonder that senior high school students are a little nervous?
OYAP student Philip Bent from Cardinal Carter High School is apprenticing with Trans-Ontario Ceilings and Wall Systems.
University remains a viable option. But if the traditions of conventional learning are not within the graduate's vision, what are the alternatives?
One brilliant choice is the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a government-sponsored initiative that allows students to apprentice in a skilled trade while earning high school credits.
"We have a robust economy in Ontario and one good way to sustain growth is to tap into the huge talent pool that exists in our high schools," says Sandie Birkhead-Kirk, director of apprenticeship for the Province of Ontario.
'Another smart choice'
"A large percentage of kids don't go to university and OYAP is out there, not as a second choice -- but as another smart choice."
Birkhead-Kirk is right, and her statements are backed by her significant career in the business of securing success for the generation of our future. Even so, you needn't rely on her word alone -- meet Philip Bent, registered member of OYAP, recent graduate of Cardinal Carter Catholic High School, level one interior finishing apprentice, full-time employee at Trans-Ontario Ceilings and Wall Systems and an inspirational success story.
"I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do after high school, but an office career didn't appeal to me," Bent says. "So I hooked up with OYAP in my final year as a way to explore my options in the skilled arena -- that gained me a spot at the Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre where I got my level one apprenticeship, continued my training with an affiliated company, graduated high school and hit the ground running with a full-time job at my school work placement."
Through OYAP, Bent realized a smooth transition from high school to the world of work -- but for industrious students, OYAP offers more than that. During his placement, Bent was paired with Kevin Willis, a foreman at Trans-Ontario Ceilings and Wall Systems and a community-spirited professional. "Kevin's training goes beyond the trade," Bent says. "He's become a mentor to me. I'm learning a high-demand skill, but Kevin's also showing me how to succeed in life, following any path -- he really looks out for me."
It is these partnerships that expose the underlying value of OYAP. Not surprisingly, relationship building within the program is no accident. "OYAP is a multi-faceted partnership -- between education, business, unions and government," Birkhead-Kirk says. "These relationships are forged with a mandate to help fill the looming skill gaps in our province, maintain a competitive edge for our businesses to continue to prosper, offer a meaningful future to our young graduates, and ultimately benefit our communities overall."
The savvy business that sponsors Bent's apprenticeship understands the need to perpetuate their trade in the tradition of the highest standards. "Training kids is a worthwhile investment," says Gary Mossop, superintendent at Trans-Ontario Ceilings and Wall Systems. "Philip is currently working in metal stud framing and dry walling -- we're willing to take the time to teach young apprentices because our company needs to continue a training cycle that will match natural attrition while maintaining high standards. Besides, Philip is an exceptional kid -- he's smart, eager, willing to learn and he has the maturity to be a reliable member of our team."
Clearly, Bent's success is the result of his own commitments and abilities, but the multiple OYAP partnerships embed checks and balances, consultants and guidance throughout the apprenticeship in a co-ordinated effort meant to increase the odds of a successful outcome.
During high school, teachers prepare the candidates for the program and maintain communication and assistance for both the business and the student.
At the Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre, the training co-ordinator tracks progress and documents hours spent, which are then applied to the individual apprentice record.
Level one graduation instigates notification to local union businesses that hire new apprentices from the Centre.
When the student makes the leap to a working life, the company supervisor maintains a close relationship that will all but guarantee success in the skill.
With 26 field offices and 200 OYAP staff across the province monitoring progress and guiding students toward the various levels of their apprenticeships, the collaborative program connects education, community, government, business and youth to a positive future.
"I got really lucky," Bent says. Perhaps, but in the Philip Bent success story luck's dubious role might be described more accurately as, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
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