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December 16, 2011 3:37 PM

Renovation guru visits Conestoga

Jim Caruk, one of Canada’s leading experts in homebuilding and renovation, visited Conestoga’s Waterloo campus Dec. 13.

Caruk, a Toronto-based master contractor and editor-in-chief of the trade magazine Renovation Contractor, is perhaps best known as the former host of HGTV’s Real Renos.

His visit to the campus included a tour of the Trades & Apprenticeship facilities in Waterloo as well as an 11 a.m. presentation in the college’s Roofing Centre. An audience of about 150 people included students, faculty and local contractors.

Front row centre were about two dozen young women dressed in work boots and jeans, students in Conestoga’s Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) pre-apprenticeship program.

Nicole Hubert, one of 25 women currently enrolled in the program, said while it focuses primarily on carpentry, the program also introduces students to electrical, plumbing, HVAC and welding.

“It gives a good overview of everything,” said Hubert, “so it’s good for someone who wants to go into a trade but doesn’t know exactly what they want to do.”

Following completion of the 38-week certificate program, Hubert hopes to get an apprenticeship with a construction company.

Caruk, who has more than 30 years’ experience working in the trades, began his own career as a sheet metal apprentice in 1973.

“Serving that apprenticeship got me where I am today,” Caruk said. “If you have a trade behind you, that’s your foundation for everything.”

For Caruk, it all started with a fireplace. After completing his sheet metal apprenticeship and obtaining his master’s degree in HVAC, he built a custom fireplace for his parents’ cottage. Shortly thereafter, he was commissioned to build another, and then another, until he had an order of 15 fireplaces.

What began as a side project quickly evolved into a full-scale business. Operating out of his boss’s shop with a makeshift assembly line consisting of hired tradesmen, Caruk got a taste of what it would be like to work for himself.

“That set the groundwork for what I wanted to do,” Caruk said. “That’s what got me going.”

In the midst of the recession in the early 1990s, Caruk saw an opportunity to start his own business. Twenty years and countless jobs later, he hasn’t looked back.

Caruk said he owes much of  his current success to his background in trades, as well as working hard and taking calculated risks.

“Once you have that ticket, the sky’s the limit.”

Caruk, who is an avid supporter and promoter of the trades in Canada, sees a huge opportunity right now. According to Caruk, close to $50 billion is spent annually in the renovation industry.

“Everybody always says doctors and lawyers make the big money. You’re now the doctors and lawyers of the future,” he told the trades students, adding that six-digit incomes for young trades workers are not uncommon.

“There’s a huge shortage of trades right now,” Caruk said. He attributed the increased demand to the fact that so many people have opted instead for computer-based careers since they became popular in the 1980s.

Alex Klausnitzer, a first-year student in Conestoga’s Renovation Technician program, agrees.

“I’m at Conestoga because there’s a big need for trades right now,” Klausnitzer said, adding that the college has been a great learning environment.

“I really like the teaching,” he said. “I like the faculty and I’ve learned a lot.”

The renovation technician program is one of a comprehensive array offered by Conestoga’s School of Trades & Apprenticeship, which also includes programs in construction, electrical, industrial maintenance, welding and cabinetmaking, among others.

Like Caruk, Klaunitzer has an entrepreneurial spirit and hopes to one day run his own business specializing in home and cottage renovations.

For more information on Conestoga’s School of Trades and Apprenticeship, please visit the Conestoga website.

Story by Ryan Bowman, a first-year student in Conestoga’s Journalism-Print program.

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