By Linda White
Special to The Sun
Creating awareness among high school students that the trades can be an attractive education and career destination is essential if industry is to cope with a growing skilled trades shortage in Ontario, industry officials maintain.
"It is important to attract students at the high school level into the trades to ensure we have a sustainable source of qualified future employees," says John Murphy, Executive Vice-President Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
20,000 unfilled jobs
In Canada, the shortage of skilled labour has been estimated at no fewer than 20,000 unfilled jobs, growing to 50,000 by 2010. Half of trades businesses reported in 2003 that the shortage is a pressing issue.
"If more students do not enter trade programs, the present situation will get worse and we could be forced to expand our search for trades professionals to other provinces and possibly other countries," Murphy says.
But there are many barriers to attracting students to the trades.
"There is an underlying societal bias in evaluating the benefits of attending a university versus trades program though college," says Murphy. "Currently there is little focus on trades programs within colleges and little readily accessible information for youth about the many benefits of a career in trades such as good pay, positive impact on the economy, and an abundance of career opportunities, both supervisory and entrepreneurial."
The Power Workers' Union (PWU) shares that concern. "Often teens have no idea what an apprenticeship is," says Communications Officer Debra Carey. "Apprenticeships provide hands-on training for people who enjoy learning by doing and want to work in a skilled trade.
Apprentices are paid while gaining work experience and their wages increase with their level of skill."
OPG and the PWU are committed to sharing with students the benefits of working in the trades. They recently joined forces to find how much Grade 9 and 10 students and their parents know about working in the trades through an online survey.
"Parents have a dramatic impact on their children's future career decisions and curriculum choices -- including math and sciences -- that are being made at this age," Murphy says.
"Informing students in this age group of the prerequisites needed for a trades career will ensure that they have the education needed to enter into a trades-related college program."
More than 3,000 people responded to the survey. Information gathered will help OPG and the PWU shape their recruitment strategies. It will also be used to develop educational kits for high school students, parents and guidance counsellors.
According to a recent Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid:
42% of Canadian youth claim they are unlikely to consider a career in the skilled trades;
67% of youth and 55% of adults would choose university as the first post-secondary option.
26% of youth said they would consider a career in the trades;
60% of youth said their parents have not encouraged them to consider a career in trades;
71% of youth said guidance counsellors have not encouraged them to consider skilled trades professions.
"The kits will provide the information a student needs to make informed career choices -- from skilled trades as a possible career path to what courses are needed to ensure entry into a trades-related college program," Murphy says.
"We all have a responsibility to the youth of our future, ensuring they are given the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge to secure their futures, including the proper instruction to perform their work safely," Carey says. "We can no longer leave this responsibility to others, as our youth is the power of our future."
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