Province expanding program to see skilled trades hit the road

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Government of Ontario is putting money into a new program that will bring education about skilled trades to students and young people across the province.

Announced on Tuesday morning by Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton, and in collaboration with Skills Ontario, the province will be putting $5.4 million into the design and construction of three mobile tech classrooms that can travel the province and deliver hands on skilled trades experience essentially into students backyards. Funding for the projects comes from the government’s Skills Development Fund, an over $700-million initiative to support ground-breaking programs connecting jobseekers with the skills and training needed to find well-paying careers close to home.

According to a press release from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, the mobile classrooms will be built and operated by Skills Ontario, an employment program aimed at building Ontario’s skilled trades and technologies workforce. The classrooms will “feature hands-on learning stations and simulators for electrical systems, welding, crane operation, auto-painting, tire and brake work, heavy machinery and more.” Over the span of three years, the government estimates these mobile classrooms will allow nearly 500,000 people get hands on experience with the skilled trades and work to tackle the labour shortage facing the province in critical industries.

Minister McNaughton noted that the program will help get more people into in-demand and high paying jobs to support themselves, their families and communities.

“By 2025, one in five jobs in Ontario will be in the skilled trades. These are rewarding, well-paying careers that you can build a family and a life around,” McNaughton said.

“That’s why our government will continue to invest in cutting-edge programs that give students the chance to experience the 144 trades and life-changing opportunities available to them.”

The mobile classroom project is not new. Skills Ontario, in collaboration with the Ontario government, launched a “Trades and Tech” truck last year that crisscrossed the province, providing hands on learning experiences to 40,000 students and youth across 50 different events from Ottawa to Thunder Bay. The new trucks are expected to be complete by 2024 and will accommodate 150,000 visitors each year.

“This program ignites an awareness of opportunities in the skilled trades and tech field that inspires more young people to pursue these careers,” said Skills Ontario CEO Ian Howcraft.

“We want to thank and recognize Minister McNaughton and Premier Ford for the leadership and investments they have provided to build the skilled workforce of tomorrow.”

The province is currently working to tackle a shortage of skilled tradespeople in the province, especially as it has committed to building 1.5 billion new homes in the province by 2031, which will see a need for over 100,000 new skilled trades workers this decade, according to the release. However, recent efforts to drive more people to skilled trades seems to be paying off, as the government also revealed that apprenticeship registrations increased by 24 per cent in the last year (21,971 to 27,319), which includes a 28 per cent jump among women, following a $1-billion investment in skilled trades over three years. In total, there were 93,866 apprentices active in Ontario as of July 2023.

The government will also attempt to address this shortage through changed credit requirements for high school students in Ontario.

“I recently announced that starting in September of 2024, all high school students will take at least one technology education course to create pathways to exciting jobs of the future,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“Ontario’s new mobile tech classroom will support 150,000 students every year in learning those critical skills that will set them up for success in a good-paying job.”