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Canadian Groups Take Aim at Skilled Trade Misconceptions, Hope to Boost Interest Among Youth

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The Canadian think tank Cardus is launching the “Building Meaning Project”, which aims to change common preconceptions about working in the building trades.  Jobs in the skilled trades are projected to boom for years to come and a younger generation of workers must be educated about construction, the group believes.

Brian Dijkema, Program Director at Cardus, told the Daily Commercial News:

“Some of the cultural aspects around construction and how it’s viewed…it’s kind of a second choice option.  What we wanted to do was work with our partners to show that working in the construction trades is worthy of being considered a first choice option.”

Part of the project will include hosting a series of roundtable discussions about the trades across Canada with leaders from industry, government, and education.  The Deputy Minister of Education is expected to attend some of the roundtables. Scheduled roundtable discussions have been set in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa.  

“At those roundtables…we are going to engage folks in the education sector on that file because one of the things that have come up is the difficulty communicating those opportunities,” Dijkema told DCM. “People are simply not aware of them. One of the outcomes we hope is greater awareness and an actual attempt to focus on guidance counsellors.”

Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development, said part of the problem is that the Canadian high school system does not allow enough opportunity for students to gain experience in possible trades careers. Instead, it pushes students in the direction of attending college.  Kenney spoke at a January 23rd event hosted by Cardus.

“The reality is that we don’t really have shop classes left in our high school and we’ve sent all sorts of signals to young people that they can’t realize their potential if they end up working with their hands rather than getting an academic degree,” he said.

Maclean’s touched on this subject recently when it highlighted the story of 26-year-old Joel Michaud.  He entered a career in the trades following high school and said he was sent mixed messages by his teachers and family about his decision.  

“A lot of people were wondering why I wanted to do it, because I was getting really good marks in school, and everybody thought I should be a doctor or an engineer. That just didn’t align with my passion.”

Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF), told Maclean’s that the perception of the trades among young Canadians is troubling, meaning that programs such as the “Building Meaning Project” are all the more important:

“Parents say they have the utmost respect for tradespeople. Teachers say the same thing. Everybody has a good attitude,” she says. But CAF surveys tell a different story. A bit more than half of students and parents say their top choice is university, but only 30 per cent of students actually go. Later this fall, CAF is releasing a survey of 1,035 parents of teens aged 13 to 17, half of whom believe the trades require hard physical labour. In reality, technology is doing most of the heavy lifting, and workplaces are discouraging it to reduce injuries. One in four parents said the trades are for weak students.
“It actually scares me,” Watts-Rynard says.

But Michaud is an example of the power of changed perception. He started his training in carpentry while attending St. Mary’s High School in Calgary through Alberta’s Registered Apprentice Program.  He graduated in 2006 and has been a certified carpenter for over five years.  He is currently the foreman at Sunview Custom Cabinetry in Calgary. He also repairs musical instruments in his free time.  His journey through the trades brought him financial stability and happiness.  He now wants other young Canadians to think about their career options.  

If you’re able to do something for your living that other people do as their hobby, that’s a pretty special thing.”


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