The skilled trades, especially construction, are facing a labour shortage that’s only expected to get worse, here’s how Ontario is trying to get ahead of the problem.
THERE ARE ABOUT 15 STUDENTS WORKING AROUND THE WOODSHOP, ALL IN MATCHING NAVY AND NEON GREEN WORK CLOTHES.
Brigon Munkholm: We have basically everything that you would run into as an employee in the field working in this industry. Uh, from drill presses to scroll saws, mir saws, uh, um, table saws, panel saws.
THAT’S BRIGON MUNKHOLM, ONE OF THE INSTRUCTORS IN THE WOODWORKING AND CABINETRY PROGRAM THIS CLASS IS PART OF.
THIS COURSE IS PART OF HUMBER’S PATHWAYS TO THE TRADES PROGRAMMING, FULLY FUNDED BY THE ONTARIO PROVINCIAL, AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS. THAT MEANS STUDENTS CAN TAKE THIS COURSE WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY FOR TUITION, BOOKS OR EQUIPMENT. IN ONTARIO, THE SKILLED TRADES ARE FACING A LABOUR SHORTAGE. AND BY 2025, IT’S ESTIMATED THAT ONE THIRD OF ALL TRADES WORKERS WILL BE APPROACHING RETIREMENT AGE.
David MacDonald: A lot of jobs are just seeing no applicants. And so, from the employer’s perspective, this is a very different world. You know, they’re used to six people fighting it out for one job. Um, it’s much more even. Right.
THAT’S DAVID MACDONALD, AN ECONOMIST WITH THE CANADIAN CENTRE FOR POLICY ALTERNATIVES, AN INDEPENDENT THINK TANK KNOWN FOR PUBLISHING AN ALTERNATIVE FEDERAL BUDGET EACH YEAR. HE SAYS THE NUMBER OF AVAILABLE JOBS IS NEARLY EQUAL TO THE NUMBER OF JOB SEEKERS.
David MacDonald: We’ve got about a million unemployed people, a million job postings, which of course puts more power in workers’ hands to shop around.
BASED ON STATISTICS CANADA DATA, THERE ARE MORE JOB OPENINGS IN CONSTRUCTION THAN MOST OTHER FIELDS. YEAR AFTER YEAR, JOB OPENINGS IN THE INDUSTRY HAVE OUT-PACED NEW HIRES.CONSTRUCTION AS AN INDUSTRY IS VERY BROAD. SHORTAGES WOULD OF COURSE AFFECT RESIDENTIAL, COMMERICAL AND INDUSTRIAL CONSTRUCTION, BUT ALSO THE CONSTRUCTION OF SEWER AND WATER MAINS, AND OUR ROADS. SO, TO ATTRACT MORE WORKERS TO THE SKILLED TRADES, THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT HAS PUT MORE MONEY TOWARDS PRE-APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS — TUITION FREE TRAINING FOLLOWED BY A PAID WORK PLACEMENT — TO GIVE PEOPLE A HEAD START WHEN IT COMES TO FINDING APPRENTICESHIPS AND STARTING THEIR CAREER. PRE-APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS ALLOW STUDENTS TO EITHER SKIP THE FIRST LEVEL OF IN-CLASS APPRENTICESHIP TRAINING ONCE THEY FIND A JOB AND BECOME A REGISTERED APPRENTICE, OR TRY THEIR HAND AT A TRADE THAT DOESN’T REQUIRE IN-CLASS APPRENTICESHIP TRAINING.
William Linton: So what that does is enables you to have a little bit of some skills and knowledge and background to be able to market yourself to an employer to get that first job.
WILLIAM LINTON IS A PROJECT MANAGER AT HUMBER COLLEGE, OVERSEEING THEIR PRE-APPRENTICESHIP AND PATHWAYS TO THE TRADES PROGRAMS. HE SAYS APPRENTICESHIPS ARE SIMILAR TO UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE PROGRAMS, EXCEPT MOST OF THE LEARNING HAPPENS ON THE JOB. TO BECOME AN ELECTRICIAN FOR EXAMPLE, IT TAKES AROUND FIVE YEARS OF ON THE JOB TRAINING. LINTON SAYS WITHIN THOSE FIVE YEARS, THE APPRENTICE WILL GO FOR IN-CLASS TRAINING AFTER THE FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD YEARS.
William Linton: That’s the process you have to follow. Any training that you do ahead of being hired by a tradesperson is just it just helps you to get that first job. It’s not required though, to become an apprentice.
ONE REASON WHY INTEREST IN THE TRADES HAS BEEN LOWER COULD BE DUE TO SOME PEOPLE SEEING A TRADES JOB AS A LAST RESORT OPTION, OR SOMETHING YOU PURSUE IF YOU AREN’T SMART ENOUGH TO GO TO UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE.
William Linton: Part of that is because most of the people advising high school students have come through the college or university system. And the kind of the preconceived notion is that well, if you can’t go to university or college, maybe you should try a trade, which really is not the case.
LINTON SAYS THE TRADES ARE FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE PHYSICAL WORK, BUILDING THINGS WITH THEIR HANDS AND SEEING A FINISHED PRODUCT. PEOPLE LIKE NILS ATUAHENE, AN IRONWORKER APPRENTICE, AND FORMER PRE-APPRENTICESHIP STUDENT.
Nils Atuahene: I’m African, you know, like, The stigma is basically to go to school, probably become a nurse, maybe a doctor, a lawyer, you know? Um, I just, it just wasn’t for me, you know, like I had to explain to my parents that like, the trades is a job, you know, like, it’s like it is a career path.
ATUAHENE SAYS PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ALL THAT THE TRADES HAVE TO OFFER. OR HOW TO START A CAREER IN THE TRADES IN THE FIRST PLACE,
Nils Atuahene: I was always interested in trades, just didn’t know how to get an apprenticeship, you know, or get my foot in the door or like how to like, walk up into the union and, and say like, Hey, I wanna join the union.
AND THAT’S WHERE PRE-APPRENTICESHIP TRAINING COMES IN. THE PROGRAMS ARE MEANT TO CONNECT JOB SEEKERS WITH EMPLOYERS ONCE THEIR TRAINING IS DONE. HERE’S THE CABINET MAKING INSTRUCTOR, MUNKHOLM AGAIN
Brigon Munkholm: So these students are going to be fast tracked into the industry, which is great for them because it will provide income and a job they didn’t have before, and it will provide the industry with more people which it desperately needs.
CABINET MAKING IS A VOLUNTARY TRADE, MEANING WORKERS DON’T HAVE TO COMPLETE AN APPRENTICESHIP. BUT DAN MILLER, THE OTHER INSTRUCTOR IN HUMBER COLLEGE’S CABINET MAKING COURSE SAYS THERE’S STILL A BENEFIT IN GETTING SOME EXPERIENCE BEFORE
Dan Miller: They know what they’re getting, right, they know somebody has the basic knowledge of experience. They don’t need to do all that hands-
HUMBER’S EIGHT-WEEK CABINET MAKING PROGRAM IS MEANT TO GIVE STUDENTS WHO MAY NOT HAVE THE TIME OR MONEY TO COMMIT TO A FULL-LENGTH PROGRAM
, HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE. THE FOCUS OF THIS PROGRAM, SAYS MUNKHOLM, IS TO GIVE STUDENTS THE SKILLS TO MAKE FINE FURNITURE
Brigon Munkholm: If you can make fine furniture you can go into any wood working field, including carpentry, that you like. Going from carpentry into woodworking doesn’t work quite the same way.
THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IS ONE OF THE FEW ALONGSIDE HEALTHCARE AND EDUCATION THAT DIDN’T GET A BREAK OVER THE PANDEMIC,
. BOTH BECAUSE CONSTRUCTION CAN’T BE DONE FROM HOME, AND BECAUSE MANY OF THOSE WHO WERE AT HOME TOOK IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO RENOVATE. MUNKHOLM SAYS DEMAND NEVER WENT BACK TO PRE-COVID LEVELS, SO THE JOB PLACEMENT PART OF THESE PROGRAMS IS CRUCIAL.
Brigon Munkholm: We’re constantly getting asked by employers to provide more training, more students, and get them out faster.
STUDENTS IN THE CABINET MAKING PROGRAM LEARN HOW TO USE A VARIETY OF SAWS, TURN RAW LUMBER INTO USABLE PIECES FOR CONSTRUCTION, VENEERING AND CAN EVEN USE THE WOODSHOP’S HOT PRESS, ONE OF THEIR POINTS OF PRIDE.
Brigon Munkholm: It is a full 5×8 bed, a beautiful machine if you ever work with veneer. It’s amazing.
WHEN I VISITED THE WOODSHOP, THE CLASS WAS WORKING WITH WOODEN DOWELS AND JOINTS. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? I ASKED A FEW RELUCTANT STUDENTS TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME.
IN A SMALL CLASS OF AROUND 15, THERE WERE A FEW WOMEN SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT. TIFFANY PEDDIE IS ONE OF THEM. ACCORDING TO STATISTICS CANADA DATA, ONLY EIGHT PER CENT OF TRADES WORKERS IN ONTARIO ARE WOMEN, WHICH ADDS UP TO AROUND 80 WOMEN. THIS IS UP FROM AROUND SIX PER CENT IN 2002 WHEN THERE WERE 54 FEMALE TRADES WORKERS IN THE PROVINCE.
Tiffany Peddie: Being a young black woman in the trades, I don’t find it intimidating. We’re in the year 2023, everything is different now, and there’s more women getting into it now too.
TO ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN TO ENTER THE TRADES, SOME COLLEGES AND TRADE UNIONS OFFER PROGRAMS JUST FOR WOMEN. BUT WHILE PRE-APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS DO THEIR PART TO ADDRESS THE LABOUR SHORTAGE, THEY’RE JUST ONE SLICE OF THE PIE ACCORDING TO PATRICK MCMANUS WHO IS THE CHAIR OF THE ONTARIO SKILLED TRADES ALLIANCE.
Patrick McManus: We can’t just focus on pre-apprentice training and apprenticeship funding. Um, that’s necessary and it, that needs to continue.
MCMANUS SAYS THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS THAT GO INTO FILLING JOB OPENINGS
Patrick McManus: Some of that is how we promote and how we. How we, uh, sort of, uh, socialize the idea of skilled trades to younger, younger folks, uh, you know, beginning in high school or elementary school as a viable career.
TO COMBAT THAT ATTITUDE , MCMANUS POINTS TO AN APPROACH GERMANY TAKES; TREATING THE SKILLED TRADES ON PAR WITH UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE.
Patrick McManus: I think here in Ontario and, and probably in Canada, you know, for the longest time we, you know, After high school, there was college and there was university and there was no third option. Germany has always maintained the third option.
IT’S A CULTURAL SHIFT THAT WE MIGHT SEE OVER THE NEXT FEW GENERATIONS AS OPPOSED TO NEXT FEW YEARS. HOWEVER, THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT JUST ANNOUNCED IN MARCH THAT GRADE 11 STUDENTS WILL SOON BE ABLE TO TRANSITION INTO FULL-TIME APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS INSTEAD OF COMPLETING THEIR LAST TWO YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL. STUDENTS WHO GO THIS ROUTE WILL BE ABLE TO APPLY FOR THEIR HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA UPON COMPLETION OF THEIR APPRENTICESHIP.
Patrick McManus: as long as we keep trying something new, to fill these gaps, then that’s important.
PRE-APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS ARE NOT THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL FOR THE SKILLED TRADES LABOUR SHORTAGE, BUT THEY DO QUICKLY AND AFFORDABLY PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY, AND FOR THAT REASON MUNKHOLM SAYS,
Brigon Munkholm: It’s a win-win.
THIS HAS BEEN SERENA AUSTIN FOR DMJZONE.CA