Canadian Contractor

Editorial: Talk about the options


November 26, 2021
By Patrick Flannery

I t was a message beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness. A placement service for commercial glaziers posted a photo on LinkedIn showing a poster hanging in an American high school. The poster read, “You have choices! You don’t necessarily have to go to college to make a good living…” Below that was a list of common trades jobs – plumber, crane operator, heavy equipment mechanic, carpenter, etc. – with an hourly rate range noted next to each. I don’t need to tell you what the numbers were, but they would be eye-popping to a high school student. Certainly, much more than they could expect to make for at least a decade, or possibly ever, coming out of a university social studies program.

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When I shared that post, I commented that if there were a poster like this hanging in every high school in Canada, I bet we’d see some relief in the supply of skilled trades workers inside of five years. I know there are young people walking the halls of high schools across the country dreading the prospect of another three or four years after graduation with their bums in uncomfortable lecture hall chairs and their noses in books. But a lot of them probably don’t think they have any other option. Why? Because they’ve been told by their parents and teachers and popular culture that without a university degree their prospects will be dim. In fact, I suspect that’s part of the reason why posters like that one are not already present in high schools. There would be a least a few parents who would object on the grounds that the poster was discouraging university enrollment.

Malarkey. In my experience, there are people who are suited for  university and people who are suited for the trades or business or other things. It’s a matter of aptitude, personality and affinity, not intelligence. We’ve spent too long as a society trying to fit the square pegs who like to work outdoors or with their hands into the round holes of universities. The result has been a glut of young people unsatisfied with their prospects and saddled with student debt while lucrative positions in the trades go unfilled.

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Don’t get me wrong, this is no indictment of university. I was definitely one of those in the “suited for it” category and there are experiences and growth opportunities there you can’t find anywhere else. As there are in trade schools.

Another sad result of this cultural attachment to university has been the decline or outright abandonment of high school shop classes. They were victims of the small-government-low-taxes craze of the ‘90s that also claimed “luxuries” like music programs and, in some cases, textbooks. The acknowledgement that there might be more than one way to make your way in life, or that a rounded perspective and learning style might be valuable, was lost. I’ve been pleased to
see some of those options come back in some schools in my area. The trend needs to continue. And outside each shop class should hang a poster that tells young people they have other options and lays out just how attractive those options can be.


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