If government sets the stage, young people can perform

By Bobbi Ann Brady

For far too long, the skilled trades have been undermined in our educational institutions and by academics alike. Today, there’s a race to usher as many young people into the trades as policymakers claim a shortage in many sectors.  Many still believe college and university are the only options beyond high school. However, I learned lately Ontario has much to do to get skilled trades and apprenticeships on track.

At the beginning of May, the Ontario Government introduced new policy to attract more young people to the trades, including adding a new apprenticeship pathway and an online job matching platform. This new pathway is Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training (FAST). FAST will allow students in Grades 11 and 12 to participate in more apprenticeship learning through additional co-operative education credits while completing high school. These initiatives are designed to promote the skilled trades to youth and workers and help set them on a path to rewarding, well-paying careers as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and other skilled trades.

I hope this results in some positive outcomes because what I have heard lately is concerning and contradictory. Locally, I’ve been told certain trades, like builders for example, are experiencing a lull and their business is the quietest it’s ever been. Some have had to seek other employment to supplement their income.

I have told the Premier on more than one occasion the environment to build in Ontario doesn’t exist today. Some contractors have told me they cannot compete with those undercutting who pay under the table, don’t offer benefits or competitive wages.

Young people who have been enticed by the idea the trades is a pathway to success also tell me they are experiencing trouble finding apprenticeships. And yet we continually hear the shortage in skilled trades exists.  My suspicion is there are still too many obstacles and red tape for those contractors who would like to give a young person the opportunity to enter the workforce. I would love to hear from local contractors to get the true lay of the land on this.

Getting back to the issue of young people entering the trades, the Workplace Planning Board of Grand Erie hosted Epic Jobs at the Wayne Gretzky Centre recently. This grand-scale event brought together trades employers with prospective future employees in the form of students. More than 1,500 Grade 7 and 8 students from the Grand Erie District School Board and Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board attended the event. 

Epic Jobs was created to inform students in Grades 7 and 8 about the numerous trade careers available. Organizers say this event is often the students’ first exposure to jobs in the trades. The Workforce Planning Board is one of 26 non-profit organizations in Ontario playing a leadership role in labour force planning.

Touring the event, I was glad to see Haldimand and Norfolk employers showcasing their trade. Other exhibitors extolled the excitement of careers as a firefighter or paramedic while industry representatives talked about what they had to offer.

Together with curriculum changes, the hope is Epic Jobs will influence students into making career choices that will ensure we can build for the future. Government must do its utmost to set the stage and ensure our economy rebounds and create an atmosphere for contractors to offer competitive jobs in the trades. For its part, reducing red tape is within the government’s purview. Once these key factors are in place and interest rates drop, I believe Ontario will be well suited to meet the demands of the future.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk