Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Explore the Trades event promotes our industry to high schoolers in Orillia, ON

Canadian Contractor

Could this coordination between educators and potential employers help promote interest in the trades near you?

There’s a buzz of energy in the hallways of a public high school, and on this particular day in early October that feeling of enthusiasm and excitement is heightened by a unique kind of trade show at Orillia, Ontario’s Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School. However, Explore the Trades is not your usual type of ‘trade show’; it’s a show focused on the trades.

A unique showcase to promote the trades
The gymnasium is lined with hands-on displays hosted by local builders and manufacturers. In the parking lot, students line up for an opportunity to operate a Bobcat T250 or mini-ex. In addition to the host school’s students, those from other area high schools will be joined by busloads of elementary students. It’s never too early to plant seeds of interest in the trades.

Grade 12 students Jaimie, Julia and Bridgette are considering the trades after graduation, maybe as a stepping stone to further professional degrees

Grade 12 students Jaimie, Julia and Bridgette are considering the trades after graduation, maybe as a stepping stone to further professional degrees

Three years in the running, Explore the Trades is a model of cooperation between the education system at all levels and area employers, an act of seduction coming when employers all over the country are calling out for young people to consider the trades as a career.

Stephanie Stanton of the Orillia Manufacturers’ Association says the show was several years in the planning, and believes it is the first of its type in Canada. Over a dozen OMC and Orillia District Construction Association members were on hand, along with representatives from Georgian College and Ontario’s apprenticeship programme (OYAP). The OMC and ODC also offer scholarships and operate student job banks, thereby openly engaging students and showing them the educational and employment opportunities that lie within their own communities. These initiatives are vitally important, and not just to satisfy the needs of local companies, explains Stanton.  Keeping young people in their small home town areas after graduation is vital for the continued vitality of the communities themselves.

Brett Carron's shop class at Patrick Fogarty is a hive of building activity that includes 20% females

Brett Carron’s shop class at Patrick Fogarty is a hive of building activity that includes 20 per cent females

Building careers, not just chopping boards and coasters
Brett Carron has been the faculty leader of the shop programme at this year’s host school, ‘PF’ as locals call it, for the past 14 years. “This is an opportunity for students to get familiar with local businesses,” says Carron. “We have four programs here, Specialist High School Majors, which are pathways for students to find a particular strength or preference.”

Carron’s students can take shop as their major, plus the math courses applicable to the trade, and focus on co-op placement. “We have funding to help bridge a connection with members of the community, to let them know we have students who are on this path, and combine this with our youth apprenticeship programs so students can get connected straight from high school.”

The next step: post-secondary training that is relevant to the demand
James Fielding, Campus Support officer at the Muskoka campus of Georgian College explained how the 7,000 square foot skilled trade training facility in Bracebridge campus provides the next step towards formal accreditation and ultimately local employment as a skilled tradesperson.  The campus focus is carpentry. The programs start early, with summer camps geared towards younger age groups, a great intro for kids to start the process of considering the trades. For them, building stuff is fun. At the post-secondary level, Georgian students at Fielding’s campus train in higher end construction like timber frame, always in demand in the upscale Muskoka cottage district. Because Georgian’s training dovetails with local demand, placement with employers is very high and opportunities excellent for career development. “We have people approaching us all the time” says Fielding.

Students enjoy one of two large-timber ping-pong tables in the atrium's of Patrick Fogarty Catholic S.S.

One of two student-built, large-timber ping-pong tables in the atrium of Patrick Fogarty Catholic S.S.

Wade Towers, Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program Coordinator for Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, signs up about 150 students to apprenticeship programs each year while they’re still working towards their high school diplomas. He gives Carron’s shop programme at Patrick Fogarty high praise. “We’re seeing a lot of Brett’s students actually get out into the workforce through cooperative education. Those with a Specialist Major in Construction can, for example, approach potential employers with Working at Heights, WHMIS, fall arrest certifications, maybe even lift truck training, so they’re more likely to get hired.”

Making connections with local employers
“Any training or certifications that students get through high school will definitely help them get summer employment,” says Pam Clark of Monteith Building Group, an Orillia-based construction management company with over 60 employees in various locations across Ontario. Clark says that Monteith often hires students in the summer, if on-going projects are suitable. “Sometimes when high school students are looking at specific trades, they may not have an idea of what type of work they would be working on, or where they might be working. We can give them a broader picture as to where they could end up.”

‘Explore the Trades’ could be a template for your area too!
As an OYAP Coordinator, Wade Towers attends several events across Simcoe County showcasing the trades as a career. What makes the Explore the Trades event in Orillia so successful, and what others in Canada should be looking at, is the full integration of all levels, from education through to construction and manufacturing companies, all under one roof. “What’s so important about Explore the Trades is that we are getting the employers out,” says Towers. “Without the employers involved, there are no apprenticeships.”

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