CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Trades an option for all students

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

Talking to students about the skilled trades before they hit high school is key to ensuring the door is open to all career paths, says a carpenter apprentice who entered the trades after completing university.
Carpenter apprentice

"There's a stigma that the best and brightest go to university or college and will automatically know what to do, while the rest can find something else," says Laurie Ward, an apprentice working with the City of Toronto.

Not the only door

She knew she was expected to go to university as early as Grade 8. "I went to university, but don't think it's the only door for our best and brightest students. There are a lot of opportunities in the trades to make a lot of money, to get up every morning and look forward to what you do," she says.

"I think kids who show an aptitude beyond the academics should also have the opportunity to go to a tech school and get their hands under a car hood and on tools to see if they like it ... It's important to know that every door is open if you want to try it."

Ward took that message to an Apprenticeship Awareness Day for Grade 7 and Grade 8 teachers hosted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) last fall. Event organizer Joe Hogan, a retired TDSB teacher, agrees.

"We know that 28% of Grade 9 students plan to go to university," he says. "Where do the rest go? We want teachers to learn about apprenticeship opportunities so they can educate students and provide information to parents. If a student comes to them and says they're interested in a career in hospitality, for instance, the teacher can help them find out how to plan for that."
Plumbing apprentice

That plan could include the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, a school-work transition program sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Students begin training in a skilled trade while they're still in high school.

Teachers attending the conference received a resource package to help them expand their School Career Education Program and invited parents and students to attend a skilled trades careers showcase.

The event also included presentations from tradespeople who own their own business or train others. "They spoke about the kind of people they're looking for," Hogan says.

"One told teachers he asks to see a student's report card before he'll hire them. He wants to know about their attendance ... It was an 'ah ha - so you don't want the worst kid in my class' moment for teachers."

Paul McErlain began a plumbing apprenticeship after graduating from Central Technical School. Speaking to teachers about the trades was rewarding for him. "You've got to get kids interested in something early, especially kids who don't like school ... If you know they like working with their hands, you can direct them to the right high school," he says.

"A lot of parents look down on the trades, but there are good benefits to working in the trades and lots of opportunities, such as owning your own business," McErlain says.

"It's never too late to get into the trades, but the earlier you get in, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits."

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