Growing up in Second World War London, education wasn’t on Roy Humphrey’s radar. His grades weren’t stellar and Hitler kept bombing the classrooms.
“When I left school at 15, my only interests were metalwork, woodwork and football,” says the 77-year-old Vernonite.
A soccer career wasn’t in the cards, so he worked as a tool boy and upgraded his schooling for a year, and, at age 16, he started his engineering apprenticeship at private businesses. The skilled tradesmen became his mentors.
“Through my whole life, I’ve drawn on that knowledge,” said Humphrey who completed his apprenticeship in 1955 and went on to work in the aviation sector and run his own businesses.
It’s that experience that has driven him to lobby for reform of Canada’s apprenticeship initiatives.
“There are so many kids out there on the border line like I was at 15,” he says.
Humphrey is convinced that secondary and college-based programs aren’t providing youth with the practical, hands-on knowledge that will lead to fulfilling careers.
“Training has to be done on the job working with skilled people,” he insists.
“A government-sponsored report in 2007 states 50 per cent of businesses surveyed recommended training be done on the job. Only five per cent preferred college.”
Humphrey envisions getting students out of the classroom and into existing businesses.
“We’ve got all of the facilities in the community already,” he says of plumbers, electricians, mechanics and engineers.
“We’ve got car dealerships in town with state-of-the-art equipment and skilled technicians.”
So the onus doesn’t fall completely on private enterprise, he believes there should be a non-profit agency that administers the program and employs the kids. Funding would come from all businesses and in return, they would get a tax deduction.
“The government should provide a 10 per cent bonus on all contributions to the training administration unit,” he says.
Humphrey’s lobbying comes out of a concern for today’s youth.
“There are thousands of kids just bumming around,” he says pointing to recent incidents in his hometown of London.
“Look at the riots. These are out-of-work kids. Why aren’t they working and learning responsibility?”
He is also convinced that without enhanced apprenticeship opportunities, youth will continue to flee the North Okanagan for greener pastures — eroding the region’s social and economic base.
“We want the kids skilled so they can stay in town and build the community,” he said.
“We have a skilled labour shortage.”
His crusade started when he wrote a letter to then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. There was no response and it’s been a similar situation on this side of the pond.
He has met with MP Colin Mayes and MLA Eric Foster, and written to the City of Vernon and even billionaire Jimmy Pattison. Nobody appears willing to back him up.
“Could it be that I’m the only one that thinks like this? I may be,” he says.
“I promised my wife this year would be the last and I would pack up (the lobbying). I don’t like to be a loser but nobody else is thinking the same.”
I can attest to Humphrey’s persistence.
It was more than a year ago that he first approached me with his concept and since then, he has frequently urged me to get the word out.
And the issue hits home for me as I have two teenagers and one is heading into her last year of high school. The opportunities should exist for her to pursue whatever path she wants.
I know students who have had tremendous success with apprenticeships through Okanagan College and local high schools, so I’m not in a position to say if the system needs reform.
But as a parent, I am thrilled to know my kids have Humphrey in their corner.
I wish everyone would exhibit the passion he does for the future generations.
Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star