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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Apprentice on the fast track

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

When high school student Tommy Panakos graduates next year, he'll be armed with much more than a diploma. He'll also be able to take advantage of the skilled trades shortage as an electrician apprentice.
Best Electric Co. foreman Nitesh Patel (left), Middlefield C.I. co-op/OYAP student Tommy Panakos (centre) and Best Electric Co. president Gurmukh Sehmbi.

"The more experience I get, the better off I'll be," says Panakos, a Grade 11 student at Middlefield Collegiate Institute in Markham. "I like working with my hands and thought I'd like to be an electrician. I took co-op and started liking the trade even more."

Train while in high school

Panakos registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a school-work transition program sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It allows students to begin training in a skilled trade while they're still in high school.

"In addition to tuition, training, and registration incentives, it gives students incentive to do well, as they see a direct relationship between the skills they're learning and their future," says Middlefield CI co-op teacher Salim Jamal. "They're banking hours of hands-on experience, building contacts, developing employability skills and also earning high school co-op credits. They're laying the foundation and opening doors to their future."

Panakos works at Best Electric Company in Scarborough, where he has learned about inventory, blueprints and bidding and is working on site alongside electricians.

"He's learned how to work as an electrician, work safe, and work independently and as part of a team," Jamal says.

"On a broader scale, he's seeing how the construction industry functions, and how learning about the responsibilities, ethics, and issues that relate to the working world."
  • An industrial electrician prepares, installs, maintains, tests, troubleshoots and repairs industrial electrical equipment and associated electrical and electronic controls.
  • Apprenticeship training is recommended for those wanting to work in this trade. It typically takes four-and-a-half years to complete apprenticeship training.
  • To be successful in this trade, you need communications, problem-solving, analytical and organizational skills. You must have mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, good colour vision, be able read blueprints and visualize and interpret multi-dimensional concepts. -- Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

  • As a student masters skills, their employer checks off and assesses what they've completed. "They can see their progress," Jamal says. "It's also helpful for employers, who can 'test drive' a potential employee prior to hiring them for regular employment. Employers also play an important role in keeping schools current about the needs of the workplace."

    For employers, OYAP provides an opportunity to give back to the system that trained them. "It's a chance for me to get students involved in a great trade," says Gurmukh Sehmbi, owner of Best Electric. "I know what it was like. I was eager to learn and appreciated the opportunity someone gave me."

    More students, parents and teachers are aware of OYAP. "Before, students said they wanted to get into co-op. Now they're saying they want to take co-op as a stepping stone to OYAP," Jamal says. "More students are starting to recognize that trades are a destination they should be planning to get into, rather than viewing it as a fallback destination.

    He hopes interest continues to grow. "There is still a lot that needs to be done to help parents and students become aware of the career opportunities that exist in the skilled trades."

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