Canadian Contractor

Dave Gray   

The Graduate: Good help is hard to find. Unless you know where to look

Renovation Contractor

In today's labour market we constantly hear about a skilled trades shortage. The struggle is real!

In today’s labour market we constantly hear about a skilled trades shortage. The struggle is real! And as an employer, you know better than most just how difficult it can be to find a good employee. One that will last. One that will show up every day, on time. One that is worth investing your time and effort to train as an apprentice.

I hear from business owners when visiting the local building supply company that it is hard to find youth that are willing to work and put in the hours required to satisfy the employer. Are your expectations too high as an employer? Have we created a youth population that is unwilling or unmotivated to work? Or is it because they simply don’t have to? Sensitive subject matter I have found, and questions I would rather not debate.


With that being said, I believe that there are many young adults that are willing to work for you. Men and women that see the value in the trades. That understand and want that sense of accomplishment that we feel as tradespeople every day. People that can appreciate an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. There are people looking to change their career from behind a desk to the skilled trades. Employers just need to know where to find them. Luckily for you, I see them every day.

As a faculty member in the Carpentry Department at Conestoga College in Waterloo, Ont., I have the privilege to see these future tradespeople first hand. Granted, not all students are alike. But, in general, I believe employers should be looking at college grads as a viable option to grow their businesses. Canadian colleges have many postsecondary, trade-specific programs running throughout the year. Their students come from all walks of life. They could be fresh out of high school and want a little more training before hitting the workforce, or a mature, second-career student that is being retrained as a result of a lost job.

Interested, invested, and instructed are three key reasons why you should take a look at a college grad. Being interested in the trades may not be enough to make it on the jobsite. But being interested, making an investment in to their future, and having a trade-specific education all combine to make a college grad a great hire for your company.

College students have a keen curiosity of their chosen trade. These students have a plan for their future. They want to learn more about the trade and gain skills to be a valuable asset on the jobsite.

The majority of college students are in programs that they are interested in. This is a required first step on a student’s journey in the trades. They are not in high school trying to fill their timetable with “easy” credits in the tech department. (Trust me, I have taught in the high school system. Worst three weeks of my teaching career….) College students have a keen curiosity of their chosen trade. These students have a plan for their future. They want to learn more about the trade and gain skills to be a valuable asset on the jobsite. Whether this interest comes from seeing the success of a family member or from HGTV, these students are motivated to learn. As faculty members we are there to foster that curiosity and translate that to viable skills for you as an employer. As education progresses, students will discover if that specific trade is the right fit for them. Education weeds out the uncommitted or uninterested.

College students are invested in their future. They want to get an education to support their future. These students want to look better than that person off the street with no education but thinks it’s easy to swing a hammer. Contractors should be looking at hiring college grads for this reason. Grads have invested time and money in to their education. This should not be overlooked as this is not a minor investment. Most post-secondary programs are the better part of the year and can cost students a significant amount of money when factoring in tuition, textbooks, cost of living, and wages lost as a result of their commitment to their studies. Some diploma programs are a two-year commitment for the students. This must hold weight in an employer’s search for good people. I find that a second career student is that much more invested with their studies as they see this education as an opportunity for change. These students may have lost a job and are being retrained, or were not happy where they were with their previous career. Some have families to support and want to be able to provide for them. These students are invested to better their situation. They are motivated to learn and want to find a job at the end of their studies as they have a lot on the line. This investment and commitment to their education, I believe, will translate to a commitment to a good employer.

Finally, college grads are instructed. College graduates receive a practical, skill-based education founded in theoretical lessons. These students have invested their time and money in gaining a valuable education to help them find employment in their future. It is the job of the colleges of this country to provide students with an education that is industry driven and relevant. Students are gaining an education that is applicable with today’s safety standards, building codes, building practices, and proper tool and equipment training. Not only are students learning new skills, they are learning work ethics from journeypersonsturned- instructors that have been in the trade for some time. Faculty members know what it takes to make it in the trades and relate that with their students. Students learn what it takes to be a valued tradesperson.

As an employer, not having to invest your time to train employees on the basics is a valuable asset. Students learn how to use trade-specific tools properly and safely. College grads also learn practical training in state-of-the-art shops. Theory lessons provide grads an understanding of why we build the way we do. This translates to less time having to hover over your new hires during their first or second year of employment.

The skilled trades shortage is apparent but that does not mean you cannot find good employees. Look at your local college grad for your next great hire. Inquire with the college career services department to steer you in the right direction. Better yet, join your local college advisory board as an industry expert on what you are looking for in new hires, and what college education should include to prepare graduates for the real world.

Long-time contributor Nate Smith has been teaching at Conestoga College since 2009. You can follow him @carpentry_prof.


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