Funding gives B.C. students hands-on trades experience

With job shortages already here, push is on to start careers early

An infusion of cash from the province will ensure more young people get a taste of real life working in the trades, according to the Greater Victoria School District.

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“This absolutely has a big impact,” said Greg Kitchen, associate superintendent for the school district. “This allows us to put resources and staff in place to increase awareness and increase the opportunities for students.”

The province’s Industry Training Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education has written cheques for $40,000 to the Victoria district and $30,000 to both the Sooke and Saanich school districts as part of $1.3 million in funding for the Youth Work in Trades program. The 46 other school districts in B.C. will divide the rest of the money.

The program is geared for students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 to test the waters of an apprenticeship program by working with local employers to gain hands-on experience.

Students earn a paycheque, get credit for hours toward an apprenticeship and credits toward their high school diploma.

Kitchen said in Victoria the program has between 20 and 30 students each year, and it’s been getting easier to attract young people to the program.

“Increasingly our youth see the tremendous opportunity in the trades and they are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunity for skilled trades workers, particularly in our province,” said Kitchen. “With that awareness, more and more students are being drawn into the area.”

Kitchen said one of the appeals is the jump start on a career and life, noting many of them see a chance to start their training earlier, complete Red Seal programs earlier and get out into the field and make really good money at a relatively young age.

Phil Gutmann, a Red Seal automotive collision repair technician, called the Youth Work in Trades program a great head start.

“Gaining on-the-job experience while still in high school helped me to build a meaningful career for myself,” he said. “The Youth Work in Trades program gave me the skills I needed to succeed. I’m proud to say that I’ve received my Red Seal certification and couldn't be happier with my choice.”

Kitchen said the program anticipates doubling in size in Victoria in the next few years, and they hope funding keeps pace.

The $1.3 million announced last week is $100,000 more than the province committed last year.

There is plenty of opportunity out there for young people, according to the B.C. Construction Association.

Statistics released this fall showed there are an estimated 11,700 construction jobs expected to go unfilled in the next 10 years due to the current labour shortage, while only one in 45 high school graduates enters a construction trades program within a year of graduation.

The province’s most recent labour outlook study showed there will be 903,000 job openings across all sectors between now and 2028, including the creation of 288,000 new jobs due to economic growth. And 70,000 of those are expected to be in the skilled trades. That study also revealed while most of the job openings would be in the Lower Mainland, 17 per cent would be on Vancouver Island, meaning 153,820 job openings.

“There’s a great opportunity out there,” said Kitchen, pointing out they have had excellent support from local businesses. “They are anxious and anticipating shortages in skilled trades workers.”

“This is a great time to be a part of B.C.”s skilled trades,” said Shelley Gray, interim chief executive of the Industry Training Authority. “From building roads up North to creating culinary masterpieces in the Lower Mainland to ship maintenance on the coast of B.C. ... there are more than 100 rewarding trades careers to choose from.”

Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builder’s Association, said increased funding for trades training at high schools is great news.

“Any time a school district can step up and support the trades and encourage students to look at the trades as a career opportunity is good news to us,” he said.

Edge and his organization have advocated for cross-pollination in both high school and university to allow students to follow an academic path while taking practical skills courses.

“The idea that life is lived in silos just isn’t accurate. Tradespeople need strong business skills and university students need practical skills,” he said, noting if universities no longer functioned in silos, high school students wouldn’t have to choose one path over another at such an early age.

The Youth Work in Trades program requires students to complete four ministry courses toward their high school graduation and log 500 additional apprenticeship hours while maintaining a C+ average in their classes. Students who meet those requirements receive a $1,000 scholarship when they graduate.

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