The Ontario government has announced a large investment in training and participation efforts in the skilled trades and local educators say the push is much needed.
The province has allocated $36 million over the next two years to go towards improvements in training settings and shops in post-secondary education centres all over Ontario, as well as a significant investment in advancing traditionally underrepresented groups in different industries.
Suzanne Moyer is the chair of trades and apprenticeship at Conestoga College’s Waterloo campus and she says any kind of financial support and promotion will improve the popularity of entering into a skilled trade as a career choice.
“It is one of those things where every little bit helps. Every program, every initiative and every marketing campaign helps,” she said, addressing the seemingly universal push for high school students to enter academia. “We really do require bright and analytical people with good problem-solving skills to be going into the trades and it is such a good career choice that I think is sometimes overlooked because of that push for four-year universities.”
The investment from the province’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is something that Randy Dyck, Elmira District Secondary School Tech department head, says will help people realize how important trades are in Canada and fill the current gaps in industry.
“We have a great responsibility here, going forward with the next generation, there is a growing need,” he said, touting the benefits of learning a trade for students. “It is a need with higher expectations in terms of the requisite knowledge that you are bringing to that trade. Experiential learning is just a fantastic environment, for our students to learn in, whether it is in the shop, or here in a classroom, or down the road in a co-op or apprenticeship.”
A portion of the promised amount, $23 million, is going directly towards upgrades and new facilities and equipment at colleges across Ontario, and Moyer says the initiative is ongoing. Conestoga has applied for some of the money to address issues at some of their campuses.
“We are continuously upgrading equipment so it is meeting current industry needs and employer needs. That is something that we definitely use on an ongoing basis for all of our programs. We had also applied to use it for our facilities both at the Cambridge campus and at the Doon campus,” she said, adding that it is all about keeping up with industry standards. “In Cambridge, we are looking at enhancing and modifying some classroom space to allow us to train more apprentices, and at the Doon campus, we are looking at incorporating some green energy technology.”Around $13 million of the investment is going towards encouraging Aboriginal peoples, at-risk youth and women to participate in the trades and set up careers, something Moyer says is an on-going effort, with little result.
“We are working hard to encourage more Aboriginals and women into the skilled trades, but it is a challenge. There is still a small percentage of women participating in skilled trades. The improvement is minimal. We see improvements, but it is still sitting at five per cent. It is still low,” she said. “They create a great pathway into an apprenticeship. It is free training for the participants and we have seen great success there. A number of colleges offer that, and they are awarded this funding. It is for at risk youth as well, it is just trying to capture those people that may not have considered a career in the trades and this will provide them that opportunity.”
Dyck has more than 200 students in their final year of trades learning at EDSS, and says he would love to see improvements in the post-secondary sector of skilled trades in the area.
“(The investment should) at least encourage young people to realize this is a first career choice. This is something that you can really sink your teeth into, and have a wonderful career and lifestyle should you choose to get into it,” he said. “It comes with challenges and it is lifelong learning. I think it could be very helpful, for them too, as they too are bringing in those new technologies.”
The province has confirmed that there are investments being directed to Waterloo Region, however the the details have not been made public just yet.