Conestoga news

August 22, 2007 10:09 AM

Technical careers promise good money and a strong demand

Dylan Mitchell could well be the poster boy for apprenticeship programs in Canada.

This spring, Mitchell moved from Richmond Hill to North Vancouver to launch his career, using skills he learned in a two-year tool and die program, and to take advantage of the British Columbia lifestyle.

"I'm loving every minute of it," says Mitchell who attended Langstaff Secondary School and Centennial College.

When he left college, 21-year-old Mitchell says he knew he wanted to do something with what he learned in school. "I looked at a becoming a machinist, millwright, or heavy duty mechanic," he says.

He worked in an automotive garage for a year, but didn't find it fulfilling. "It paid the bills, but I found it to be boring – seldom challenging."

In May, he decided to move west, not because of the job boom out there, but for the other things he's passionate about: biking, skiing and snowmobiling.

He found a company in Vancouver that builds custom diesel generator sets and marine drives, willing to hire him as general help. After a week, he had proven himself worthy of a marine manifold fabricator position doing welding and machining.

"My college training has been worth its weight in gold, even though I'm doing something completely different with the skills I learned," he says.

Mitchell says the program he chose was broad enough to give him the skills to get a good job, but feels other programs could have got him to the same place, including fabricator, millwright and machinist.

He started his job at $17 per hour, but was soon bumped up to $18.75 an hour, with a pension and a union benefit package. With a welder/fitter/fabricator Red Seal or B Pressure ticket, he would start at about $25 an hour, possibly more in the high-demand areas in Alberta.

He needs 8,000 documented apprentice hours and must write several tests to get to his journeyman's Red Seal level. "Most two-year college programs give you a 2,500-hour credit," he says.

Wages for trades vary across the country, depending on the demand in each province. In Alberta and B.C., wages are considerably higher, says Allison Rougeau, executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum in Ottawa.

And, she points out, studies show apprentices have lower debt, better job prospects and higher earnings than other post-secondary grads two years after finishing school.

"Trades are kicking butt," agrees Mitchell. "If you work hard at finding the right position for yourself and apply yourself, you'll go far."

He represents the demographic the trades are desperate for, especially since many more skilled tradesmen are retiring than starting their careers. The hardest-hit industries will be manufacturing, construction, petroleum production and transportation, according to the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP).

"The trades have the highest aging population," says Rougeau. "Traditionally, Canada has used immigration. But with increased global competition for labour, and other countries facing skills shortages, there is a real need for a skilled workforce, not just bodies."

In the next two decades, 40 per cent of new jobs will be in the skilled trades and technologies. In 1998, that number was less than 20 per cent.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Training, more apprentices are being trained in the province than ever before. In 2006-07, 25,469 new apprentices were registered and a ministry spokesperson says the province expects to meet its target of increasing new registrations to 26,000 per year in 2007-08.

However, Mitchell feels Ontario high schools still don't do enough to help students pursue a career in skilled trades.

"I definitely could have used more guidance. The problem may stem from high schools grouping all the trades together. They push the trades, but they basically can't tell them apart."
Rougeau says Mitchell's concerns are common and an area the industry must continue to address.

"There are still some stereotypes around skilled trades – whether it's parents or other influencers of young people, and even employers themselves, not thinking about providing opportunities for apprentices. But I do think there have been some strides made," she says.

Aug 16, 2007
Jennifer Brown
Appeared in the Star