High school students across the region are in the process of making what could be one of the most difficult decisions of their life.
They have to choose what direction they want to take away from high school, and need to decide whether they want to head straight into the workforce, go the academic route at a university, or perhaps take a more hands-on approach at college.
The deadline for Ontario secondary students to submit completed hardcopy and online
applications to the Ontario University Application Centre is Jan. 11, while college applications must be received by Feb. 1 to receive equal consideration.
One option that has gained considerable traction in the past few years is apprenticeship training.
“There used to be the expression ‘you can always fall back on a trade’ but just the opposite is happening now,” explained Greg White, the chair of the trades and apprenticeship program at the Doon campus and Waterloo campus of Conestoga College.
“There are certainly jobs for well-qualified apprentices.”
Conestoga has nearly 4,000 apprentices and provides training and education necessary to get them the critical skills and experience necessary to become anything from a plumber or an early childhood educator, to a mason or a job in manufacturing.
He says that despite the doom-and-gloom about the economy, there are still terrific job opportunities for tradespeople.
“I have three-times as many jobs available as I do kids enrolled in the program because mom and dad don’t believe there are many jobs,” said White of the manufacturing apprenticeships offered at the school.
“Last year we had 51 (apprentice) positions and only 17 students.”
At the high school level, apprentice training has become a very popular choice for students, and through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program students can begin to log valuable time towards their apprenticeship while still in high school.
At Elmira District Secondary School, the faculty boasts one of the largest technology departments in the entire region, and the school has made a conscious effort to make students aware of the choices available to them beyond just university.
“Apprenticeships are acknowledged as an equal but alternative pathway right from the very beginning,” said Arthur Wombwell, the head of guidance at EDSS.
“There’s discussion in Grade 9, but it gets serious in Grade 10 when they do the career studies course.”
Ensuring parents and not just students have all the right information is critical, said Wombwell, which is why he ran a parent-student information night at the school a few weeks ago to make all those involved in the decision making process more aware of the options available.
“The parents may or may not know as much as the kids do,” he said. “(We) reviewed what the apprentice route looks like and how it’s evolved since they were students.”
According to the White, Canada faces a critical shortage of trained trade’s people. In the masonry industry alone the average age of its employees was about 50 years old just a few years ago.
That is why the college, in conjunction with George and Asmussen Ltd. in Breslau, formed a partnership to build a construct 10,000 square-foot masonry training facility at the college’s Waterloo campus, which was finished in 2009.
Since then, the average age of mason’s working at George and Asmussen Ltd. has dropped to about 35, says the company’s owner and general superintendant.
“For years and years the supply of people working through the unions and in the non-unionized sector was from immigrants,” said Mike George, who is also the vice-chair of the masonry program advisory committee at Conestoga.
“As the years went on, it tended that their sons and daughters didn’t necessarily follow in their father’s footsteps as we got into the ’80s and ’90s.”
That tide is beginning to change thanks to the growth in apprentice programs and the new partnership with Conestoga. The company is one of the largest masonry contractors in North America, with offices in Montreal and Calgary and has made a concerted effort to train and hire apprentices.
The company was recently named as one of four recipients of 2011 Minister’s Awards for Apprenticeship Training awarded in June. At any given time upwards of 30 mason apprentices work for the company, which employs between 150 and 250 people in Ontario, depending on the season.
George also said the company retains about 80 per cent of its apprentices once they’ve completed their training.
“We’ve always believed in teaching and training and giving the opportunity to young people because it’s a great skill and a great trade,” said George. “It’s not for everyone, it’s a hard endeavour, but there is a real opportunity for them to get into our trade.”
For more information on apprenticeship training, visit the Conestoga College website www.conestogac.on.ca.