With one million skilled trade workers needed in Canada by 2020, it's time the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board expanded its Skilled Trade development.
By Ed Sculthorpe
Published September 02, 2014
In this municipal election, school board trustee candidates share many common platform principles. Walkable community schools, alternatives or a moratorium to school closures, neighbourhood engagement initiatives, classroom inclusivity, among others. My platform shares them as well. Few other candidates will not echo the same sentiment as I would on these topics, all of which I am very passionate about.
A serious and often overlooked concern, however, is the glaring lack of skilled trade development opportunities for our graduating students.
With a severe trade shortage facing Ontario, coupled with legislation that imposes unsustainable ratios of apprentice:journeymen (the only province to do so), a skilled trade worker can charge a premium for their services.
A high school graduate of 2010 who completed their apprenticeship this year could demand upwards of $70,000 per year with no student loan, while also earning during their training. In 2012, the average salary for university graduates was $50,000 a year, minus their student loan payment.
College enrolment sees 15 percent of applicants with previous university degrees hoping to increase their employability while plunging further into debt. Entering a skilled trade with a measure of business savvy can therefore be a very lucrative career choice.
Approximately 60 percent of Ontario high school grads enter post-secondary programs, including just 6 percent entering apprenticeships. Not enough to meet the demand of our economy. Without greater emphasis and community support to skilled trade development, we risk an influx of foreign trade workers - something we have already witnessed in Alberta.
The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) offers an outstanding opportunity for high school students considering a career in skilled trades. It provides co-operative placement with licenced journeymen where they apply and develop their trade skills on real-time industry projects.
They spend an entire semester in a hands-on skilled trade environment while earning valuable high school credits to pair with their experience. No other public school program prepares students to enter the workforce as well as this.
Our Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is a provincial leader in this program, yet struggles to find local student placement, through no lack of trying.
On average, 1000 students participate every year. This includes placements in all of the four Skilled trade sectors; Construction, Motive Power, Industrial, and Service. They compete with college students for placement and restrictive provincial legislation that limits the amount of apprentices our journeyman can take-on.
In a city known for its diverse blue-collar workforce, they compete with an economic climate that discourages time-philanthropy in the 40 percent of high school graduates hoping to start work right away, in favour of post-secondary educated labour. The demand for skilled trades cannot afford this. Post-secondary enrolment is not the only measure of success for the public school system.
The HWDSB award-winning Building Careers Program is perhaps the most community-connected of any opportunity the board offers, yet less than 1 percent of students are able to participate. Focused on OYAP students in the Construction sector, they are building affordable homes and public spaces throughout the city through various organizations like Habitat For Humanity.
Only 25 students per semester are selected to have this experience, which boasts a whopping 80 percent employment rate after completion. The benefit to both student and community is second to none.
With an estimated one-million skilled trade workers needed in Canada by 2020, our community must work together to ensure our education system produces a more complete and sustainable workforce. Expanding the Building Careers Program to the other three trade sectors by establishing strong partnerships with those industries is essential.
Allowing 1:1 apprentice/journeyman ratios, improved trade development incentives, and an improved funding model for our schools are three areas where the province can also help. Every level of our society, from the classroom desk to the highest level of government needs to positively engaged in this investment.
As Trustee for Wards 1 and 2, I will ensure that strong community relationships are built and our collective voice is heard when advocating for both academic and skilled trade focused students. They deserve equal opportunity for success. As a father, veteran, and proven community leader I offer an open-minded and pragmatic work ethic toward investment in our most cherished asset - our children.
It's time to reclaim our schools, together.
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