Negative perceptions adding to labour shortage

The majority of people believe skilled trades are low-paying, involve dirty and demanding physical work, and are not intellectually challenging.
In fact, a major recent survey commissioned by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) found that only one in four people said they would consider a career in the trades.
These negative perceptions literally are turning off Northwestern Ontario youth to a rewarding and dynamic career in the skilled trades.
In Ontario, for instance, there are some 138 skilled trades career options for every interest and aptitude—jobs that offer respect, opportunity, and good pay.
Many people associate skilled trades with traditional occupations such as plumber, welder, and construction worker. But over and above the traditional ones, there is a variety of skilled trades in the service sector, such as an educational assistant, early childhood worker, event planner, cook, and appliance repair technician.
Overall, tradespeople earn 3.1 percent more than the average Canadian—and more than 20 different trades provide earnings substantially above the national average (Statistics Canada, 2001 census).
For example, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), tool and die makers earn 23 percent more than the average, machinists six percent above the average, and electricians 16.5 percent above the average.
And job prospects are good. Recent projections estimate 913,000 skilled trade job openings between 2003 and 2015—half of those due to retirement of today’s workers.
Skilled tradespeople who complete a “Red Seal” apprenticeship have added job security because they can move across Canada and work in provinces requiring the demand for these specified skilled trades.
Apprenticeship also offers additional opportunity for youth to “earn while they learn,” thereby minimizing any accumulated debt load from tuition costs.
The physical demands of skilled trades jobs vary greatly between professions. Some do require modest physical strength and endurance, but most do not.
However, virtually all of the trades do require intelligence and creativity, as well as good literacy, mathematical, and analytical skills.
Through the use of technology, skilled trades are not “dirty” as they once may have been and are still perceived to be. In fact, knowledge of computer software and mechanical systems control equipment is increasingly important.
Today, the line between “white collar” and “blue collar” is becoming blurred.
While a minimum of 17 percent of students in Northwestern Ontario who never finish high school obviously are severely limiting their career options, secondary school graduation is no guarantee of a good job, either.
Although 70 percent of jobs require some form of post-secondary education, university is not the best choice for everyone. In fact, only 11 percent of today’s jobs require a university degree.
Unless Northwestern Ontario’s skills shortage is alleviated, the region’s economic opportunities will narrow.
Subsequently, perceptions of skilled trades as a first-choice career option must improve to help bridge the gap between the skills shortage and the training deficit.
Editor’s note: The local “Passport to Prosperity” employer recruitment campaign committee, in partnership with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, submitted this article.