KAWARTHA LAKES –Chris Vanuden is a General Foreman for a hydro contractor in the City of Toronto. He says hiring skilled linemen is impossible. Vanuden currently oversees approximately 12 employees in his division that are working on high voltage projects.
“We have had to hire new workers and train them because finding licensed lineman is impossible, every contractor in the city would hire 10 new journeymen if they were available, every contractor is desperate for skilled workers,” he said.
Vanuden is not alone. As a result of the need for skilled trades, the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, TLDSB, has launched the #StartMeUp Campaign in hopes of increasing the knowledge and awareness of all, regarding the incredible opportunities that are available for students in the area of the skilled trades and apprenticeships.
“It’s more a lack of knowledge and awareness of skilled trades than lack of interest, data supports that for most students, the biggest determiner of their jobs and career is their parents influence, the more knowledge and awareness we can get out there of value of the skilled trades work, the better,” said Heather Truscott, Experiential Learning Consultant with TLDSB. “The campaign was designed to increase knowledge and awareness regarding the wealth of opportunity and pathways available to students in the areas of skilled trades and apprenticeships, really our objective is to look at current opportunities to start conversations and help students plan for their future.”
Vanuden noted that he believes this is a common problem for every skilled trade. He continues to hire new employees that train in a four-year apprenticeship program.
“It doesn’t seem to matter what skilled trade it is, there is not enough skilled workers, from carpenters, plumbers to mechanics, even finding mechanics to work in our shop is brutally tough so we have apprentices in there too,” he explained. “Trades were neglected and pushed out of schools, when we went to school, we had shop classes, not nearly enough kids went into those things and now we are paying for it, not enough men and woman are coming up through the ranks.”
According to TLDSB, the skilled trades is a growing industry. Over the next 10 years, as baby boomers retire, there will be a great need for skilled trade workers. Skills Canada estimates that 40 percent of new jobs created this decade will be in the skilled trades.
It’s estimated that Ontario would face a shortage of 190,000 skilled workers in 2020, according to the Conference Board of Canada. The shortage is projected to nearly triple to a staggering 560,000 vacancies in 2030. These aren’t just numbers in a report.
Vanuden noted how valuable the skilled trades are as their services are crucial for day-to-day life.
“If you look at people who still had jobs through Covid, its all the trades people, it shows the importance,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what pandemic it is, people still need their electricity, plumbing, need their cars fixed. Trades were not hit nearly as much as other sectors through the pandemic.”
As a well-respected, General Foreman with a career in the skilled trades for many years, Vanuden says it is in fact the skilled trades that drive the economy.
“Without them, you’re not building or improving anything, most of our work is for new builds which keeps the wheels of the economy turning. We’ll be on site providing new hydro for a new development with hundreds of workers, all skilled trades,” he said.
And while the new TLDSB campaign was designed to bring awareness, the school board already has many programs in place to pave the way into skilled trades for any student that chooses follow it.
“We have so many things to offer student in their high school pathway, we can offer students certifications, certificates, on the job training and opportunities for students to take a college course for skilled trades while still in high school, through the dual credit program,” said Kelly Neumann, Pathways Consultant for TLDSB. “The campaign involves more heightened awareness of the opportunities that are available with the school board, ensuring folks are aware of the demand, the viability, job security and the high paying jobs that are available, our job is to prepare kids for that opportunity.”
As part of their efforts, the TLDSB offers the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, OYAP, any students that takes a cooperative education placement in the skilled trade becomes part of the program, Neumann said. Some students in grade 11 or 12 sign a contract with an employer while they’re still in high school to work towards their apprenticeships, gaining hours and skills.
According to Truscott, the school board is hopeful that this new campaign will shine light on many successful student stories from our local communities. She noted that locally, it is nearly impossible to find skilled trades people.
“With all the work in front of us now, the construction sector in Muskoka, it is emerging at very fast pace, but hard to get labour in skilled trades,” she said. “Bias and stereotypes has played into what skilled trades are and what they’re not, we want to highlight it as a viable and valuable opportunity.”
The school has also been hosting various events, specifically, Build A Dream, geared towards young woman and their future and possibilities of skilled trades and apprenticeships. Truscott noted that often carpentry classes are all female students.
Recently, over 2,000 students participated in a virtual presentation by a female iron worker and the response was exciting.
“To listen to some of the young women connect with the female iron worker, to hear some of the comments that young women were making, you could feel they had that “ah ha” moment,” said Truscott. “The opportunities that have been provided to her in the skilled trades, leave her feeling powerful in a room of men.”
Neumann noted that students often aspire to be a doctor or a teacher as it is something they witness and experience almost every day.
“We want to expose them to say, hey I can be that, to have a young person imagine themselves in some of these roles,” she said excitedly. “For kids to go, wow I could be her, it’s neat for us to provide that opportunity.”
TLDSB also offers the Specialist High Skills Major Program, sector specific programs for Grade 11 and 12 students that offer opportunities to receive various certifications and skills, jumpstarting their resume before entering into the workforce.
“We are really trying to equip our students, so they can walk into placements and start their pathway when they’re ready,” said Neumann.
Part of the campaign will also include continued encouragement for Grade 9 students to enter into Exploring Technology Programs.
“Everybody should take tech to see if it’s something they’re interested in,” she added. “We would love for every Grade 9 to get into a shop class, you can find out it is your passion.”
For more information about the #StartMeUp Campaign, visit https://www.tldsb.ca/tldsb-launches-the-startmeup-campaign/.