Techways provides early exploration and opportunities in skilled trades sector

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Techways Program has provided elementary school students with an introduction to the skilled trades through hands-on learning over the past 5 years.

The program meets future needs for more people in the skilled trades workforce and prepares students for newly implemented technological education requirements for graduation. It also positions skilled trades and apprenticeship as a first choice pathway alongside other fields people traditionally think of.

“It’s been really wonderful to see what Techways has done in the last five years,” said Kathryn Pierroz, newly elected chair for the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB), at the meeting on Dec. 5. “You not only inspire kids in the skilled trades but are creating opportunity.”

To give an overview of the program, Techways Coordinator Marlon Douglas, said they serve approximately 400 students. Classes of upwards 20 young learners focus on grades 7 and 8.

“I very much enjoy what I do, because I find the kids seem to enjoy this and bring joy,” said Douglas.

Douglas drops in on classrooms and begins by setting up equipment such as saws and building tools. His sessions always begin with a safety talk, something that students may find boring but that Douglas emphasizes is very important.

“For me personally, I take it very seriously,” he said. “I personally try to give a culture in my classroom that if we can do it safely, that we won’t participate,” Douglas said, adding that no serious injuries requiring medical help have happened over the past 5 years of the program.

In addition to safety, Douglas also believes that learning should be fun. He uses an instructional framework that allows students to learn by being guided through the process, which allows them to develop confidence over time by doing things themselves.

Robroy Donaldson works closely with Douglas on the Techways program. His official title is Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program Recruiter and Experiential Learning Lead at RRDSB.

Adding to Douglas’ point, Donaldson said the Techways program is “ahead of the curve” considering the upcoming changes in the skilled trades industry.

“Anyone that pays attention to the Ontario news knows that there is an increased focus on developing a skilled trades workforce, meeting that very real need, but there’s other reasons beyond that, why we would want to have people encouraged to consider the skilled trades and apprenticeship as a program.”

Techways equips students to be prepared for new technological education requirements that will be implemented next fall.

Currently, many students can graduate without having taken a tech education course. The grade 8 class that Douglas currently works with will be the first cohort that will require a grade 9 or 10 technological education credit to graduate.

Students’ decision making on future careers can be influenced by any adult in their life, including parents or classroom teachers, Donaldson said. The message that the skilled trades can be a fulfilling career is a message that rings true and that both teachers and parents can share with their kids.

Many working in the skilled trades sector have demonstrated fulfillment and happiness in their career, and research has shown that trades people benefit from work-life balance compared to other fields.

“If we aren’t inviting our students to at least explore and consider the trades, on par with some of the other pathways that we traditionally consider, we are leaving the door closed,” he said.

“We tend to gravitate towards doctor nurse teachers—good things—but we also are learning to appreciate the people that keep our lights on, keep us warm, keep our cars moving, things like that.”

Students in grades seven and eight within the Rainy River District School Board get hands on experience with the skilled trades as part of the Techways Program that encourages them to explore and potential pursue careers in those high-demand fields. – RRDSB photo

Techways works closely with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD). Students are able to work as a trial apprentice and build on their interests to explore and choose a pathway while they still have the support of their family, schools and community.

In grade 8, at Robert Moore School, one student began his exploration of the skilled trades by working on a bicycle maintenance project. This fall, he is now “working on the big tires” as a trucking coach apprentice at Peterbilt—only one of the many success stories seen by the program.

As part of their promotion activities, Techways has also partnered with Confederation College to host a summer skilled trades camp for the ages 10 to 15, focusing on topics such as culinary, sewing, in-design, welding, and others.

The program allowed students to work with a variety of tools to build and innovate. The partnership with Confederation College allows young students to learn from the teachers who may become their instructors one day, and to work in the facilities where they may study in the future.