By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
The lack of skilled tradespeople in Canada is reaching a tipping point, with 50% of trades businesses reporting in 2003 that the shortage is a pressing issue.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business report further found that 56% of firms were forced to hire people who weren't suitable, and 30% had forgone business opportunities because of an insufficient labour supply.
The Canadian Electricity Association reports that within the electricity sector, more than 26% of the workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Power Workers' Union (PWU) are committed to reversing this downward trend, and have launched new initiatives to make high school students aware of the benefits of working in the trades.
"There are greater demands for qualified tradespeople today than there are candidates for these positions," says John Murphy, Executive Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer at OPG. "Currently there is little focus on trades programs within high schools -- on the value of these jobs to the economy, the abundance of career opportunities and the benefits of a career in the trades, such as pay and ongoing training and development."
To find out how much Grade 9 and 10 students in Ontario really know about working in the trades, OPG and the PWU have created a survey targeted at parents -- who play a critical role in helping students choose their career path.
The survey will be accessible by mid-February at www.building4success.ca
. It will measure existing perceptions about employment opportunities in the trades, and determine how students make their curriculum decisions and eventual career choices.
Information gathered in the survey will help OPG and the PWU develop effective hiring programs. The data will also be used to create an information kit on trades in Ontario for parents, students, educators and guidance counsellors.
"By providing relevant trades-related career information, we can help students to make informed decisions regarding their career choices for their futures," Murphy says. "Targeting individuals in Grades 9 and 10 provides timely information on what choices are available and what courses are needed to ensure entry into trades-related college programs."
OPG's labour force consists of approximately 11,000 employees, 50% of whom are tradespeople working in various roles including control technician, nuclear operations and mechanical maintenance.
Mani Goulding, OPG's Director of Talent Management says the company is working to mitigate the effects of the trades' labour shortage.
"We are doing more recruitment advertising, participating in community and school career fairs, and have introduced an apprenticeship and co-op program in partnership with many colleges," Goulding says.
The PWU, which represents more than 15,000 members working in the electrical sector in Ontario, has partnered with OPG and other employers to promote career opportunities in the field.
TradeUp for Success, an awareness program launched by the PWU in April 2002, has so far educated more than 50,000 individuals -- government officials, educators, parents and students -- on the rewards of a trades-related career.
"One of the barriers is a lack of knowledge -- many high schools across the province have shut down their shop programs, without which students cannot determine if pursuing a career in the trades is right for them," says Debra Carey, Communications Officer at the PWU. "These jobs provide a rewarding, challenging, fulfilling career in a highly technological environment."
The TradeUp for Success website, www.tradeup.ca
, currently receives more than 2,000 hits per month from students.
It highlights how students can prepare for a career in the trades, including enrolling in apprenticeships.
"We all have a responsibility to ensure that our youth are given the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge to secure their futures," Carey says. "We can no longer leave this opportunity to others, as our youth are the power of the future."
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