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ONTARIO@WORK

Improving home improvement

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun


The issue of Canada's shortage of skilled tradespeople could not have found a better champion than Mike Holmes. The famous fix-it guy who hosts HGTV's popular home improvement show, Holmes on Homes, has made it his life's work to shape up the construction industry and inform students of the benefits of working in the trades.
Mike Holmes' unconventional style and passion for his work recently won him a Gemini Viewer's Choice Award for favourite TV personality, and his show, Holmes on Homes, is in its fourth season on HGTV.


"There are endless job opportunities in the trades; computer jobs change from year to year, but construction is always essential to our economy," says Holmes, 41. "We have to start teaching not just what they can do in the trades, and how they should do it, but why, so that they become true professionals."

Holmes' unconventional style and passion for work recently won him a Gemini Viewer's Choice Award for favourite TV personality, and the show, in its fourth season and airing Thursday evenings at 8 p.m., has grown from half an hour to a full hour.

Each week, Holmes and his crew descend on a home and repair the shoddy or neglectful renovation work of a previous contractor. Holmes' mission is twofold: to educate home owners so they make savvier renovation decisions, and to inject a healthy dose of integrity and professionalism into the industry.

"Homeowners are naive in that they use contractors who don't know what they're doing. They should start educating themselves before hiring someone," says the Halton Hills resident. "But probably the No. 1 problem is that contractors don't know enough or care enough. Jobs are being done wrong all over the place. If you can show me a new home that's perfect, that would blow me over."

Holmes' professional ethos boils down to this: If you're going to do something, do it right the first time. It's a lesson he learned early in life while following around his jack-of-all-trades father. By age six he was doing electrical work under his dad's supervision, and by 19, already well-versed in plumbing, carpentry and electrical, he was offered his first job running a contracting company with 13 employees. Throughout his 20-year career he has ran two of his own companies.

Nowadays the show eats up most of his time and he rarely does private jobs, but he's nonetheless grateful for the chance to get his message across.

"TV is a whole new world, and something I'm not at all used to, but what the show represents helps keep me going," he says.

Holmes says the proliferation of inept contractors who only look out for themselves is largely due to the labour shortage in the trades. Indeed, an April 2004 Ontario Chamber of Commerce survey reveals more than half of skilled tradespeople will retire in the next 15 years. As well, almost half the Chamber members anticipate a shortage in the skilled labour supply by 2010.

Holmes says too few people entering the industry translates into a diminished talent pool, forcing employers to settle for less than the best. The result is a working climate that turns off many newcomers.

"A young person who gets into construction sees it's a very harsh world, where nobody cares about each other anymore. Drywallers don't care about framers, framers don't care about electricians. That young person says, I don't want anything to do with this."

The show is just the beginning for Holmes, who's planning a book and a series of "why-to," not how-to, DVDs for contractors and homeowners, and a quarterly -- and eventually monthly -- magazine, also called Holmes on Homes, with the same theme.

He's also lobbying the government to better regulate the home improvement industry to weed out the hacks.

"In Ontario, anyone with a hammer in their right hand and a business card in their left can become a contractor. That's wrong."

The crown jewel of his plan to improve the industry, however, is to eventually start his own trades school that trains students in all areas of the industry and instills a solid work ethic.

"Life is what you give it, and if you give it, you're going to get it. If want to excel, you have to be honest and professional."



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