The “trades” a great career choice!

It used to be that if someone didn’t want to attend university, it was suggested they “do something with their hands.” Thank heavens that is no longer the case. In fact, having some “trades” in my own family, I would have to say there is a lot more to working in the trades than working with ones hands — particularly given the many uses of computer technology today and the fact that most are entrepreneurs and self-employed business people.

In fact, I would go so far as to say those in the trades are “salt of the earth” people. They work very long hours and without the cushy benefits enjoyed by many in the social sectors like teaching and accounting. And, when they take vacation time, they are not paid.  The bottom line is that we simply cannot manage without them — particularly when we need them in an emergency.

Well, it seems Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative government agrees with that view as well. Yesterday, for example, the PM participated in the Sarnia Construction Association’s 41st Annual Construction Apprentice Graduation. A total of 100 graduates were on hand to hear the prime minister say:

You’ve made a great career choice. In the coming years Canada is going to need hundreds of thousands of skilled tradesmen and women. Without skilled trades people, you can’t build the factories, plants, schools, housing and other infrastructures we need to keep our economy growing and our country strong.”

And, the Conservative government has invested in the trades. For example, as the PM’s media announcement states:

Since taking office the Government has undertaken several initiatives to support trades apprenticeship programs. They include: The Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, which provides $1000 per year to help apprentices pay for education and training during the first two years of an apprenticship program.”

There is also an Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit — which provides employers with a tax credit of $2000 per apprentice for each of the first two years of their contract. Moreover, there is a “tools deduction” worth up to $500 of the cost of their tools.

So, to any young people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives, look at one of the many trades available because they are a great career choice.  No matter which trade — carpenters, drywallers, framers, siders, brick layers, welders, pipefitters, electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics and collision repair and others — all are the backbone of our economy.


University versus college or the trades?

Rachel Sa’s recent Toronto Sun column was titled “Smarty pants — try a trade.” She tells the story of when her sister, who wanted to go into their family’s successful hair styling business had a discussion with a high school guidance counsellor: “Why would you go to hairstyling school?” the teacher asked. “You’re smart — you should go to university.”

Why the immediate prejudice against anything resembling a trade?  Why the assumption that you don’t need to be smart to go into the trades? Just think about Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes and his “Make it Right” productions and you realize just how extremely important a smart, talented and honest tradesperson really is. In fact, as a society, we can’t do without them. Yet, in the Greater Toronto area alone, Sa says there is a projected shortage.  As she writes:

In Tuesday’s [Ontario] provincial budget, the government has pledged $1.5 billion towards a new Skills to Jobs Action Plan designed to re-train workers for skilled jobs. There is a projected shortage of 354,000 skilled workers in Ontario by 2025. All those cranes that have mushroomed up around the GTA need people to operate them.”

So, parents and young people, I would encourage you to look at all the options available and not automatically turn away from a skills-based college diploma program or a trades apprenticeship. Opportunities are out there and university is not for everyone, no matter how “smart” a person may be because to be a successful tradesperson, you have to be just as smart and capable. The old idea of “being good with your hands” no longer holds. Computers and the latest technology are also used in the trades.

Moreover, if success is decided by income level and job satisfaction, many of those in the trades actually make more money and have better benefits than the types of jobs many students get after university — particularly those that are unionized. Like everything else, it depends on the person, the major students study in university and the job they get later.

Both my husband and I are university educated, each of us with several degrees between us. Yet, our children and children-in-law do not. They are in the trades, very talented at what they do and run successful businesses. Two are finish carpenters and one a brick layer and they are in demand and respected by their customers. One is actually learning the business from the ground up, a well established company that is now into its third generation.

The National Post had an article back on March 4th, 2008 that highlighted the Statistics Canada 2006 census on labour market activities, education and the language of work. They wrote:

“Only 10% of young adults aged 25 to 34 had a trade certificate in 2006, compared to 13% of adults aged 55 to 64.” Yet “the construction trades grew by 52,000 to 143,000 over the census period.”

University versus college or the trades? It should depend on the talents and interests of each young person, not a prejudice in favour of one over the other. All are worthy and honourable choices.