Trades training demand grows

For many high school graduates, university is not part of their post-secondary plans, and that’s OK

For many high school graduates, university is not part of their post-secondary plans, and that’s OK according to the superintendent of trades and transitions for the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

Larry Espe was guest speaker Monday at the Vernon School District’s Pro-D day at Vernon secondary school. He said it’s time to not only encourage students to consider the trades, but to erase the stigma that has traditionally been attached to “blue collar” careers.

“There are $250 billion of proposed projects across B.C. and the ministry must increase the number of students enrolled in the trades,” said Espe, who recently retired after seven years as superintendent of the Peace River North School District. “The bottom line is that there are too many jobs and not enough people to fill them.”

His department has come up with a number of initiatives designed to improve student participation in the trades, from reducing the time required to complete trades courses and certification, to working with the Industry Training Authority to identify barriers to progress.

“We want to find creative ways to increase by 50 per cent the number of graduates going directly from high school to a trades or technical program.

“How do we find ways to destigmatize blue collar learning, to have it be valuable learning. I would like to restore the honour of manual trades, where hard work had been thought of us as second-rate.

“I want to help students, parents, and teachers understand that real learning can happen while you’re standing up, talking, collaborating, and even getting dirty. This type of learning is just as demanding as learning physics or chemistry or English. And it can set kids on a career path that is just as important and rewarding as a white collar profession.”

Using a lively mix of cartoons, film clips and graphs to illustrate his points, Espe said some B.C. school districts have less than one per cent of students enrolled in trades programs, which he calls a wasted opportunity.

“We have always had two paths: academics if you are smart and non-academics if you are not smart, but we have a system where we have had a lot of smart people made to feel they are not smart.

“I’m not bad-mouthing university, but there are other options.”

For many students, said Espe, boredom sets in, and he lays part of the blame in the assembly line innovation of Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early 20th century.

“In a factory assembly line, workers are essentially paid to be bored and it killed craftsmanship, but we can co-create anything when kids are engaged.”

He said it’s time to rethink education and post-secondary education. For years, students have been told that they should work hard, go to university and make lots of money.

“But the process is alienating many kids. Everyone is making the assumption that all kids should go to university, and kids are told that they are too smart to go into the trades.”

Espe said while Planning 10 is a decent course, too often well-meaning teachers are telling their students that going into the trades is a second-class choice.

“There is no one template that will fit in every district, but instead of focusing on what’s broken, let’s focus on what’s working.

“When we asked people about the best way of learning, they used words like engagement, relevance, meaning, hands-on, collaborative. It’s about creating optional learning experiences.”

It begins, he said, at the grassroots level, with partnerships between groups.

“One of my goals is to get people at the table to take their hats off. Teachers need to talk to one another, we need to be collaborative.

“Employers are looking for people who can take initiative, who can be creative, and be passionate, not just intelligent, diligent and obedient.

“One size doesn’t fit all, and it might not be a straight line to get there.”