By Linda White
Special to The Sun
For Keith Bird, being one step ahead of the game is among the benefits of an apprenticeship program that is allowing him to earn high school and college credits at the same time.
Keith Bird is registered in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, a school-work transition program sponsored by the government.
"This summer, I'll basically be in my second year of apprenticeship," says Bird, a Grade 12 student at Dr. G. W. Williams Secondary School in Aurora. His father and uncle are master plumbers and he decided to follow in their footsteps after working for his uncle last summer.
"I had never been on a job site before that. I really enjoyed the trade and knew the best way for me to get a head start was apprenticeship," Bird says. He's continuing his apprenticeship with his uncle at Bird Mechanical in Gormley, where he works on both commercial and industrial projects.
"It's a small shop, but it's really versatile. I'm working with steamfitters, welders and plumbers, which will make me more valuable later. I've been working at Humber River Hospital, where we did chilled water lines," Bird says.
Bird registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a school-work transition program sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It helps students obtain placements in one of more than 130 skilled trades in the auto service, construction, service and manufacturing sectors.
Students earn co-operative education credits through placement in an apprenticeship while completing their diploma. At the same time, the hours they work on the job are put towards journeyperson certification.
"Plumbing in Canada has some of the highest standards in the world. By 2006, if you've got your ticket to work in Canada, you'll be able to work anywhere in the world," Bird says. He will complete his first level training through a special program at George Brown College.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?|
A plumber assembles, installs, maintains and repairs piping systems such as water, waste, drains and vents, including fixtures and appliances for home or industrial use, as well as process piping.
Apprenticeship training is recommended for people wanting to work in this trade. It typically takes four to five years to complete training.
To be successful, you need communications and analytical skills, mechanical aptitude and an ability to read blueprints.
-- Information from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
"This program will really give Keith an edge up," says co-op teacher Mary Ann McIntosh. "He already has experience. He will go to college every day for eight weeks and will then be able to start his second level. He will be so much more marketable."
OYAP offers the hands-on learning many students appreciate. "For those kids who see high school as a stumbling block to what they want to do, OYAP is a real motivator. They get started doing what they want to do so much sooner," McIntosh says. "The trades still seem to be a last choice for parents, but they're often the best choice for many students."
For employers like Brian Bird, OYAP is key to introducing the trades to young people.
"I believe it's only fair to give students who are good with their hands an opportunity to experience a trade," he says. "We haven't been pushing the trades enough and need to replenish them with young people. We need to let young people know the trades offer rewarding careers that allow them to earn a good salary."
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