Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The key message delivered during a recent virtual skills trade information workshop is that skilled trades are an excellent consideration for young adults or newcomers trying to establish a career path or for anyone wanting a career change.
The Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC) organized the Nov.22 workshop that was moderated by Jonathan Knott, TBDC program manager and Explore Skilled Trades program lead.
Sobi Ragunathan, a board member of TBDC, explained how the workshop’s objective was to give more insight into the skilled trade opportunities available today. Ragunathan is also a co-founder of 4S Consulting Services, a health and safety training consulting software company in Markham.
Guest speakers included Khalid Usman, an accountant, business owner, and recently retired Ward 7 Councillor for Markham. Ward 6 Councillor Amanda Yeung-Collucci, Ward 8 Councillor Isa Lee, and Janice Perry, human resource specialist at Aecon Group Inc., rounded out the group.
Offered by TBDC and supported by the Government of Ontario Skills Development Fund, the Explore Skilled Trades program trains and employs Ontarians for various skilled trade positions, including high-rise form setter, roofer, construction craft worker, construction labourer, and glazier.
Training programs are typically two to four weeks, with some being longer depending on the type of work. Health and safety training is an essential component of the program, given the various hazards that may exist on a job site, including heights, electricity, and power tools. After training, the individual gets placed with one of the program’s partner employers.
“Our typical model is that we want to keep training as short as possible in order to speed up placement, but also make sure that anyone that goes through the training has sufficient training in order to be successful,” said Knott.
He also offered that the training period is short and there is no cost to participate, compared to apprenticeships or colleges. “I’m not downplaying college, but a lot of people don’t have $6,000 per year to put towards tuition.”
The Explore Trades Program focuses on attracting racialized individuals, youth, women, and those new to Canada, though all are welcome to apply.
Aecon also offers training programs. “We want to retain, we want to hire, we want to recruit the best talent that there is out there, and by connecting with community partners such as TBDC, we really want to engage folks that normally wouldn’t think of a career in trades as a viable option for their future,” said Perry.
Perry spoke about the stigma of the skilled trades and the misconception that people working in trades are less intelligent.
“There are folks that have gone to university, that have finished their master’s degrees that are in very great positions to help grow and to evolve our organization,” she said. “I think we have to change that narrative around who is in the trades and what opportunities are available.”
When asked what to say to parents who look down on their kids considering the skilled trades path, Perry replied, “You’re missing out. Don’t sell the trades short in terms of the opportunities. There are lots of things that come with it – not just the income, but really building things that matter. ”
The group expanded on several other reasons why someone may want to consider a career in the skilled trades.
“If you know that you’re the type of person to work with your hands, to like to work outdoors, to interact with individuals, then yes, the trades are for you,” said Perry.
Given that the majority of jobs in the skilled trades sector are unionized, she explained that earnings could be about 20 per cent higher for an individual in the sector versus those in other positions. TBDC confirms that the average skilled trades salary in Canada is $62,400 annually. Health, dental, and pension benefits are typically offered too.
“As an accountant, I always talk in terms of the financial benefits. I think when you’re talking about whether you want to do a skilled trades job or whether you want to do a general office job, I think there’s a big difference. The skilled trades will get to make much more in the long run than the office jobs,” said Usman.
Knott cited Ontario’s plans to build over 1.5 million homes in the next decade.
“So you can clearly see that demand outweighs the supply right now in terms of what we have in Ontario and what we need. All that means is more construction,” he said.
Perry added that the sector is “COVID-proof,” with building projects continuing despite the pandemic’s many restrictions.
“We’re still getting a lot of bids, a lot of contracts, and in order for us to meet those demands, we have to have the manpower,” she said. “There’s just so much opportunity for growth.”
Perry explained that there are no restrictions based on age or gender, except for a minimum age requirement of 18 to be on a job site. Every individual that enters their program is equipped with the tools and knowledge to do the job. She also added that the broad range of jobs in the industry appeals to a broad range of people.
“Every job is compatible with you in terms of your ability to think, your capacity to understand what we are teaching,” she said, adding that “We look for capable people who are going to invest in us because we want to invest in them in terms of our training and placement. We also want to ensure that there’s long-term growth in terms of your development as an individual.”
Knott added that it’s a great opportunity to get a foot in the door and grow within a company, with several employers willing to pay for training down the road.
To apply or for further information about the Explore Skilled Trades program, email [email protected] or visit www.exploreskilledtrades.ca. Email Janice Perry at [email protected] to inquire about Aecon’s programs.
Photo: There is a high demand for workers in the skilled trade industry. The average skilled trades salary in Canada is $62,400 per year, with a broad range of jobs available and plenty of room for growth and advancement.