Providing a bridge to address a shortage of skilled workers

EDSS students are given an early opportunity for on-the-job training through the school’s co-op and apprenticeship programs. Pictured are Alex DeVore, Parker Winfield, Jesse Broughm, Safaye Borutskie, Marley Waring, who alternate between their studies at school, and their work placements during the week. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Observers have long warned of a skilled-labour shortage in Canada amongst young workers, as the younger generations opt for university-level education over college. Bachelor degrees have become, increasingly, the new standard in contemporary education for many, leaving the trades out in the cold.

Pushing back on the trend, however, are programs like the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), offered out of Elmira District Secondary School (EDSS), which give local high school students an early opportunity to train themselves in high-demand technical fields.

“I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, so this kind of gives you a little bit more experience to narrow down options,” said Safaye Borutskie, an EDSS student working a placement in construction. “You learn a lot more than you would just reading about it from a textbook.”

“I didn’t want to spend money on college and then not want to do [the program]. So it’s a good opportunity,” added Marley Waring, who is assisting teachers at St. Jacobs Public School.

OYAP is offered for students 16-years and older in high schools throughout the province specifically for skilled trades. Students alternate between work and in-class assignments, with the work-hours accumulated going towards a journeyman designation.

“The big thing was they had a shortage of skilled-trade workers, so they wanted a little bit of incentive and a push to get the idea out there that there are a lot of jobs to be had in the skilled trades,” explains David Munroe, co-op coordinator for EDSS. “And you can make a decent living and good money and not everybody has to go college and university. They wanted to promote those skilled trades in the workforce.”

The OYAP program is run in tandem with the school’s co-op placements, with an emphasis on early training in skilled trades.

“It basically is a government funded program where you sign them up for the OYAP program, and then they’re able to do some more jobs while they’re out working in those skilled trades,” said Munroe. “And also, if they decide that they want to go into that field, they can use their co-op hours as part of their apprenticeship hours after they graduate.”

The in-class portions of the program include lessons specifically on pragmatic skills in the job market, in addition to the usual course structure for high school.

“They help you find a job and get set up with your resumes and everything like that. So for future jobs it will help a lot,” says Alex DeVore, who works construction in between class at EDSS.

“But onsite is the more helpful part. You learn a lot more than you would just reading about it from a textbook,” noted Borutskie.

The blend of academics and hands-on experience is becoming increasingly important for employment, notes Munroe, while the students, too, find the program enjoyable.

“Most of them love it. Most of them are pretty passionate of that line of work and they end up doing that for a career, so they find it very beneficial. We’re even finding a lot of the employers say to people looking for jobs, that they want them to have coop experience,” he said.

Across Canada, annual earning have jumped substantially amongst skilled-trades workers, particularly for young men. In constant dollars, earnings for young men with apprenticeships rose 14 per cent between 2005 and 2015, compared with bachelor’s holders who only saw a six per cent increase over the same period.

Women, however, did not see the same gains in incomes over the period, and in fact tended to make less than women with high school educations as their highest level qualification.

“Women were more likely than men to apprentice in lower-paying trades. For example, almost three in 10 women with an apprenticeship certificate apprenticed in ‘hairstyling,’” notes a Statistics Canada report, Does Education Pay?, published in November last year.

“In contrast, women with a bachelor’s degree as their highest educational qualification earned significantly more than women with college or high school credentials.”

However, the trend may change as more women break traditional gender barriers and enter into higher paid and technical skilled trades, such as construction and electrical work.

The EDSS students, for their part, are overwhelmingly approving of the program, and said they would recommend it to others.

“For sure. You get credits to go work,” said Parker Winfield, working in automotive.

“And you can get paid,” added Jesse Broughm, another student training in the field.

“Sometimes. In lucky situations,” Waring chipped in.

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