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EDSS looks to make use of new push for skilled-trades training

EDSS teacher Ron Fletcher is the school’s new technical director. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

With measures taken on the provincial level to encourage high school students to enter the skilled trades, EDSS is in the process of applying for a new Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program to incorporate into student learning.

These types of programs let students focus on a career path that matches their skills and interests while meeting their requirements of their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The programs can range widely, from aviation and aerospace to agriculture, to sports.

“We have a lot of students that leave here that are going into the construction industry in the area,” said EDSS teacher Ron Fletcher. “So why don’t we make an application for construction? We haven’t got that one, and we’re optimistic that we should be able to get it, but that’s in the works.”

Staff at EDSS are quite familiar with this process – current SHSM programs at the local school available for the 2019-2020 school year include environment, health and wellness, and, most recently, manufacturing.

“That [manufacturing] one came in part because of the robotics program that we run at the school as well,” said Fletcher. “Between robotics and the manufacturing program … we have community support that made the application really easy, I would say.”

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce last month announced an investment to support the expansion of the SHSM to include an additional 122 programs in 19 different sectors. The purpose is to encourage high school students to explore the skilled trades and see it as a viable career pathway.

By 2021, one in five new jobs in Ontario will be in trades-related occupations, the provincial government estimates, with employers already facing a shortage of workers in critical sectors.

“We know that a labour market shortage exists today and will rise over time in the high-paying skilled trades,” said Minister Lecce in a release. “My top priority is to ensure students get the skills they need and, by investing in the skilled trades, our government is helping more students gain the competitive edge and job prospects they deserve.”

As a result of this program expansion, it is estimated that more than 54,000 students will be enrolled in over 2,100 SHSM programs in more than 700 secondary schools across Ontario. Fletcher added that he has never seen a higher demand for skilled trades workers.

“I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, and I can honestly say that the demand has never been greater. Right now, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking welders, pipe fitters, electrical, construction – almost every employer that I talk to says ‘we just cannot get enough people,’” said Fletcher, adding these employers have been hiring from all across the province, such as Thunder Bay, to meet the need for skilled workers.

“I’ve never seen such a demand.”

It’s not exactly a cakewalk to achieve the SHSM seal on their diploma, as students must complete a specific bundle of eight to 10 courses in the student’s selected field. In the process, they will earn valuable certifications such as first aid and CPR training, and develop important skills on the job through cooperative education placements.

EDSS offers a variety of co-op programs, an experiential mode of learning that combines academic study and classroom theory with on-the-job experience. Focuses include arts, business, education, science, technology, and service.

There are plenty of other unique training sessions, depending on the course, including working at heights and chainsaw training.

“The public perception is that we need more skilled trades,” said Fletcher. “Well, that would be like asking someone that has no interest in nursing to say ‘We need more nurses. We need you to be a nurse. At the end of the day – and I tell kids this all the time – you have to enjoy it. It has to be what you want to do.”

He added that while he is not entirely sure how the provincial announcement might play out at EDSS, the school has a strong skilled trades course system in place that will serve students well in the future.

“I think the message for us is we’re already doing a lot of this,” said Fletcher. “We’re certainly well set moving forward.”

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