The Women in Trades Training program at Okanagan College is designed to teach women the mechanical skills required to work in the trades and instil the sense they belong in the trades and have equal footing in the workplace. (File photo)

Trades programs helping to fill gaps in the job market

Programs target youth, women with new opportunities.

A renewed focus on engaging young people, and particularly women, in trades and technology as early as high-school is among the initiatives being championed by industry and educators alike.

It is hoped that introducing someone to these kinds of skills-based work early can give them a head start on building a successful career.

Steven Moores, dean of trades and technology at Okanagan College, says “one of the focuses of the Industry Training Authority (ITA) is to introduce and expose high school students at an earlier age to the trades. We’ve done that very successfully in pretty much every region throughout the Okanagan.”

Engaging students in high school allows them to begin exploring their options and building useful skills early on, helping them make an informed choice about what to pursue. In addition, students who are particularly keen on the trades can work towards college credit while still in Grade 12. In most cases, the tuition is fully sponsored and requires no financial investment.

“We have high school students in all of our trades programs, that is called a dual-credit program, where students enrol in Grade 12 and they can get a real good start towards that first year of an apprenticeship program,” Moores says. “It gives them high school credits plus it gives them a start in the trades. It’s very successful, we have an excess of 200 students who come through our programs from all regions each year.”

Related link: Getting a jump-start on trades skills

Dwayne Geiger, partnership and transitions coordinator for the schools of trades and technology at TRU, believes an introduction to skills-based training can give students a competitive advantage, even if the trades are not their end-game.

Geiger says “they really get a strong sense of that program or that trade, but at the end of a foundation program really what they get is a certificate for a foundation in a trade. They can end their career in trades right there, but they have skills that they are certified in that they can then go out and make money with. They’re already three bucks an hour ahead of everybody else as far as skill sets.”

In comparison with other provinces, he feels confident in saying “as far as structured programming, I would put B.C. up against any province in the country in terms of what we can offer to young people.”

Interestingly, he notes that many students use trades education as a stepping stone to move onto other academic pursuits, taking advantage of a TRU policy that allows students who have completed a Red Seal program to transfer credits into other programs at the university.

“If you finish your Red Seal program, which is approximately four to five years, if you want you can then get two-year’s credit towards any bachelors program in technology or tech leadership at TRU,” Geiger says. “Many students, when they finish their Red Seal, they will get their two year’s credit towards an education degree for example and then they go and do their masters and further.”

These dual-credit programs, offered by both Okanagan College and Thompson Rivers University, have received praise from industry and educators as a way to help students build employable skills at a young age. Moores also notes that Okanagan College is working to offer all-female Gateway to the Trades programs in the future.

This goes hand-in-hand with other initiatives the ITA is supporting at TRU and Okanagan College: the Women in Trades Training and Gateway to the Trades for Women programs.

Nancy Darling, spokesperson for the Women in Trades Training program at Okanagan College, says “what we do is bring women who haven’t had previous experience, or haven’t had a chance to get their hands on the tools of the trade, into a classroom and shop where they get to try out six or seven different trades.”

Aside from simply teaching these women the mechanical skills required to work in the trades, Darling hopes they come out of the program with a sense that they belong in the trades and have equal footing in the workplace.

Related link: Opportunities for women in trades

“In addition to skills training, we’re giving them confidence in this environment. Once they get their hands on the tools, they gain confidence to take that next step,” Darling says. “We know that diversity makes us stronger, women have natural skills that are different than men, and it’s nice to have a complete mix of everybody on a job site, it brings different perspectives to a finished product.”

When asked for a suggestion on what trades might be currently in-demand and looking to hire, Moores notes that the construction and building trades have seen explosive growth in recent years across the province.

He says “throughout the region construction, any kind of construction, is just going crazy. The demand right now for carpenters, for plumbers, for sheet metal workers, is extremely high.”

Perhaps a bit more surprising, however, is the increasing demand for skilled workers in the aircraft maintenance engineer position.

“These are the people who work on the structure of the plane,” Moores says. “You just can’t find these people anywhere. We’ve set up additional shop space and classrooms at the airport where we lease space. These disciplines are in high, high demand right now, so it’s a great time to get into aerospace.”

If you are looking for a new start through education or employment visit the Black Press Extreme Education and Career Fair, which takes places on Monday, March 12 at Okanagan College in Kelowna (1000 K.L.O. Road), from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more info: facebook.com/BlackPressExtremeEducationandCareerFair

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Aidan Miege-Moffat works on an electrical panel on a power pole. Miege-Moffat completed an electrician apprenticeship program in high school and now works for All Phase Electric.

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