Encourage students at an early age to fill skilled-trades gap in automotive

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My nine-year-old son told me what he wants to do when he grows up. It was much of what you would expect from a kid with dreams: 

  1. Baseball player;
  2. Basketball player;
  3. Builder (he pantomimed hammering, so I assume a framer or contractor);
  4. Hunter (“I want to catch my own food,” he said);
  5. Coach.

Now, don’t go telling Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton about my son’s list. It’s not exactly littered with skilled-trades jobs, unless you count “builder.” 

If McNaughton’s latest plan works — one unveiled earlier this year — my son’s younger sister might one day shout: “A millwright!” That’s because Ontario has launched an aggressive multimillion-dollar campaign to fill a gap in the auto sector. 

According to the province, there were, on average, 2,100 vacancies in the transportation and equipment-manufacturing sector — which includes the auto industry — through the first three quarters of 2019. Fourthquarter statistics weren’t available by press time. 

To fill those jobs, Ontario in January launched a campaign to sell the skilled trades to youth as young as five. 

The entire plan involves an ad campaign, changes to education and paid apprenticeships and work placements. The province crafted the pro-gram after it hired Ipsos Reid to survey Ontarians aged 18-34 to ask why they were avoiding the trades. 

McNaughton said too many people see them as “the second option” and grease-monkey work. 

“Young people today don’t know what constitutes a skilled trade and they have no idea how to get into one,” McNaughton said in Windsor at Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing, a shop so clean you could eat off the floor. “My priority is to end the stigma, simplify the apprentice system and tell business to step up to the plate and take on more apprentices. 

“A lot of these jobs pay six figures and come with pensions and benefits.” 

McNaughton said that kids begin to make their career choices in Grades 7 and 8. 

“Much younger than I think many people knew,” he said. “So, it’s about introducing the skilled trades in kindergarten, that’s part of our education reform.” 

The province isn’t alone on this. Back in 2013, Workforce Windsor-Essex, an organization that facilitates and advocates for regional workforce development in Windsor, told the CBC that starting younger is better. 

“Kindergarten would be better. It’s one of those things that when you finally start to take it seriously, it’s almost too late.” 

They might be right. I recall sending wood to my son’s class in junior kindergarten, where they sawed and hammered away under teacher supervision. It might now explain why he wants to be “a builder.” 

So, the province wants to plant the seed of skilled trades early and then help them financially later. Two programs launched within days of each other in the final week of January offer up more than $14.5 million. 

The first will provide up to 4,000 work-paid placements, each between four and 12 months in duration. Th second includes $559,837 for Sheridan College’s General Machinist an Industrial Mechanic Millwright pre-apprenticeship programs to create placements for an additional 50 students. 

At the Automobile News | tomobile.org Canada Congress in Toronto in February, John Stackhouse, senior vice-president, Office of the COE, Royal Bank of Canada, called the skilled trades shortage — and not just in automotive — “a quiet crisis.” 

When I asked McNaughton what advice he’d give a kid heading into high school, his answer was simple 

“Pick up a career in the skilled trades.” 

Many in the auto industry — from shop floors to service bays — would agree.

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