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Education system is key to Canada’s skilled trade shortages: Opinion

Coordinated awareness programs and post-secondary electives needed


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May 24, 2018 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.


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5 Comments » for Education system is key to Canada’s skilled trade shortages: Opinion
  1. To sum up, if Canada has skilled trades shortages, why not allow university students to take carpentry, etc as electives?

    • Alex says:

      Skilled trades folks shortage… Really? Two years ago I finished a three years college program in industrial electrical techniques. You should hear the reasons why I am not who they are looking for when I do a follow up call to my application, if they even care to explain. And when I inquire over a wanted ad I am often told that they already have received from few dozens to few hundreds applications by the time I call… Does not sound like a shortage? Am I missing something?

      Alex Goorskhee

  2. Dale MacDonald says:

    Casey is correct in many ways. Education is critical and in my humble experience, the school guidance councilors often direct the failing or less “academically successful” students toward skilled trades. Our family electrical contracting company does not want those people. As a customer do you want the most stupid person doing your electrical work in your home?
    Our problem here in Ontario is with ratios. At a three journeyperson to one apprentice ratio (and at one point 6 to 1) we can’t even replace our retiring journeypeople. There is a terrible shortage of licensed electricians and not enough apprentices. We get many many resumes from hopeful applicants who want to become electricians and we need more workers but, we can’t hire them due to the ratio. It is interesting to note that many resumes are from people with university degrees and sometimes more than one degree, who have had no luck in securing a job and now wish to find “meaningful, well paid, satisfying” work. This is a barrier to employment. We sometimes decide not to bid on jobs because we can’t get enough people to do the work. Our government(s) want to import people from other countries (with questionable credentials and experience) to help with the skilled trade shortages, but shouldn’t we be giving our own sons and daughters these jobs first? My suggestion is: during election times be sure to find out which party it is that supports changing ratios to enable more apprentices to get great jobs and vote for them.

  3. questo says:

    It’s about time that the Ontario Liberals are gone. Let’s see if things will improve in Ontario. Shortages of trades people? Who is to blame? It is the ratios system. It is the province acting like a collection agency on trades people. It is inspections on “compulsory” trades (Ontario College of Trades). It’s an insane amount of BS. Trades people in this province haven’t got much freedom to operate…

    The nanny state needs to tell the trades people what to do at all times, apparently. It’s comparable to slavery.

    Now regarding education, trades training in Ontario falls well short compared to the rest of the world.

    Some people say that trades people that come here from other countries may have fake licenses… Well, these so-called fakers come here to work. A lot of them speak many languages and have better trades training and experience. So where is the problem?

    Our own government is to blame for not listening and for not taking the time to fix things the right way. Instead of serving the province, they instead created an apparatus of tax collection on the trades people. Does this help?

    The Liberals destroyed apparently everything they touched. 15 years in total misery in Ontario, and an enormous debt to pay. What a mess.

    There was never a shortage of crooked politicians in this province.

  4. Well, there will always be problems in the education system. And if now this system does not meet the expectations placed on it, then in the future it will be optimized for the needs of society. I think so..