Time to promote the trades

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

Last week I was part of an event hosted by the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie to promote careers in the trades.

Dubbed Epic Jobs 2023, the event was held at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre in Brantford. About 1,600 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, many of which will be in demand in the future. 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 that play a leadership role in labour force planning.

Every time I tour an industry, I hear that one challenge facing almost all industries is the lack of qualified employees. It’s a huge concern. It’s serious enough more than one industry owner has said that if a solution isn’t found, they will consider moving to the United States. Others are looking for solutions, making suggestions on how they can get involved and be part of a program to allow students to work in their industry or factory.

Local companies were trying to attract students at Epic Jobs 2023, including Stelco and Rassaun Services. Besides having an opportunity to talk to possible future employers, students had a chance to try hands-on, interactive activities. This was cool to see as students could use welding simulators, handle a mini-excavator, build toolboxes and assemble parts. There was also heavy equipment on site for students to see up close.

From what I saw, the impression of the event was positive. The way the exhibits were set up, and the way the exhibitors engaged with kids was incredible.

Often the big push is for high school students to go to university. We need doctors, nurses and lawyers but also skilled workers. For a long time, this need has been ignored. In my opinion, the downhill slope started with the removal of shop classes from many schools. It used to be that shop was part of the Grade 7 and 8 curriculum in every school. I felt this was good as it started an interest at an early age.

The government has recognized the shortage of skilled trades and made some inroads to correct it. Starting with Grade 9s in 2024, students will need a tech credit to graduate. Eligible courses include automotive, manufacturing and construction technology, computer technology and hospitality. One of the reasons I supported the budget was the province is investing an additional $25 million over three years to attract more skilled workers, including in-demand professionals in the skilled trades.

There are also programs that allow high school students to complete work placements that count towards apprenticeship hours while completing their secondary school graduation diploma at the same time.

Since the event, I have heard from teachers that the discussions on the buses on the way back to the students’ home schools, and in the classroom the next day, were positive. The seeds were planted for these students to explore the trades further. The event also fostered an environment for the employers to get the skilled labourers they need. Epic Jobs was a real win-win.

Bobbi Ann Brady is Haldimand-Norfolk MPP.