Education system is key to Canada’s skilled trade shortages: Opinion
By Casey Edge
Coordinated awareness programs and post-secondary electives needed
By Casey Edge
Canadian Contractor welcomes back guest columnist Casey Edge. Casey is the Executive Director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association (VRBA), an independent organization tackling national, provincial and municipal housing issues on behalf of Canadians. Casey is articulate, passionate and unafraid to speak out on behalf of the residential building industry. We welcome readers to respond and comment to the ideas Casey will be bringing to our attention over the next several months.
As John Bleasby recently outlined on-line in Canadian Contractor magazine, the home building industry is experiencing skilled trade shortages, especially as baby boomers retire and housing demand continues. There are ongoing regional efforts to promote the trades, including career expos. But the real long-term fix is within the education system, which I will describe later.
Simcoe County’s expo included representatives from welding, plumbing, excavation, electrical, concrete forming, and more. Unrepresented were builders and their associations, which I suspect may be a communication issue, perhaps due to a misunderstanding of how the industry works.
Understanding how the industry works is vital
The home building industry in most regions across Canada is represented by small companies. While they may have some key staff and apprentices, they tend to subcontract their projects to independent trades. It is these subcontractors who are often the significant employers of apprentices. Commercial builders also directly hire a large workforce of their own. Therefore, educators must understand the building industry structure within their own communities in order to effectively promote career fairs.
Although most builders and their associations would likely participate in a career fair, they would be only one of many industry employers. That said, the education system nationwide does not have a great track record introducing young people to careers in the trades. They need to start in the elementary schools introducing students to simple building projects that promote hands-on learning.
In addition, multiple individual schools often make contact with builders and their associations, leading to multiple requests for apprentices, presentations, career fairs and industry burn-out.
There should be a regional coordinator representing all of the schools in a district that would liaise with industry associations for requests and events, similar to the initiatives demonstrated by the Simcoe County District Board outlined in John Bleasby’s article. The challenge there is to establish the education funding for such a position.
Where the big dividends might lie
But there is another solution that would pay big dividends almost immediately.
Presently, the Canadian and provincial governments spend money and resources participating in overseas career fairs to attract trades. They should focus resources on creating a more flexible post-secondary education system right here at home that provides Canadian students with more employable skills.
For example, we have vast numbers of students pursuing university degrees majoring in the humanities and sciences. These students also choose electives. Many would enjoy practical skills in framing, welding and other trades. These electives would offer a more well-rounded education, and provide employable skills during the summer and immediately after graduation. These skills are also transferable – construction offers good-paying jobs in every community across Canada. The students might even choose to pursue construction as a career.
We have trades schools and universities with the expertise to teach the necessary skills, and young people willing and able to learn. All we need is a flexible education system that accommodates our changing society and economy.