Badly needed and well paid, new programs and changing perceptions are helping the skilled trades return to fashion

With demand for new tradespeople increasing across Canada ― particularly as the country tries to scale up its housing stock to address housing affordability ― Ontario made an announcement last week that starting next fall, all high school students will be required to take at least one tech course to graduate, something that the province hopes will “open up doors and create new pathways to good jobs in STEM and the skilled trades.”

This follows an announcement earlier this month of an “accelerated pathway” for Ontario high schools to draw apprentices into the skilled trades pipeline, allow students to transition to full-time, skilled trades apprenticeship programs in grade 11.

The hope is that if more students are exposed to tech courses at least once, that more will look into trade school or technical college after high school.

Industry leaders in the construction trades are applauding the move, with Jason Burggraaf of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association saying it helps address the lack of interest in trades “after two or more generations of parents [who] didn’t encourage their children to get into the skilled trades.”

Experts in the industry say that more can be done, though, to bridge the gap between high school grads and the trades, especially when it comes to apprenticeships. Matt Bradley, coordinator of the Specialized Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program at the Toronto District School Board, told CBC that employers have grown increasingly hesitant to take on new apprentices, usually because of the financial demands. He wants to see industry and government come together to promote pathways into apprenticeships straight out of high school, as well as expanding the co-op internship stream.

“From B.C. to Alberta, Ontario and the Maritimes, everyone is screaming for more skilled tradespeople,” he said. “We need employers, we need parents, we need guidance counsellors, we need teachers and students to all understand the value of the apprenticeship pathway.”

That’s a message echoed by Shaun Barr, head of apprenticeship training at Algonquin College, who says that the time is right to take advantage of rising interest among high school students in a trades career, which are increasingly looking more stable and lucrative than professional work.

“The high schools are beginning to realize that these aren’t low-end jobs,” he said. “The needle has moved on that.”

Content written by Kieran Delamont for Worklife, a partnership between Ahria Consulting and London Inc. To view this content in newsletter form, click here.