Home Month and Year August 2023 The Scramble for Skilled Trade Training

The Scramble for Skilled Trade Training

More job openings than skilled tradespeople

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Despite the distant pandemic broadsides, it has been a clambering and bumpy ride for many Calgary businesses and industries. The long festering skilled labour shortage got overlooked, and now it is urgent!

In Calgary, and throughout Canada, most industries are scrambling. Construction. Transportation. Manufacturing and industrial. Information and digital technology. And the services sector. They are all scrambling to recruit skilled workers.

Construction is a prime example of a sector already plagued with skilled trade shortages. According to BuildForce Canada, the construction sector council, despite new jobs being created, combined with the current rate of retirement, some 113,000 new workers will be needed in the non-industrial construction sector by 2027. And about 100,000 of those jobs will require skilled trades.

Some industry and education insiders suggest that timing may have created a perfect supply-and-demand storm. Just as the image and perception about trades started to change, trades training opportunities began to grow.

The sudden demand and popularity of a career in a trade is also a subtle part of a long-term transformation and updating the stale cliché that used to consider trades training as an inferior default option to conventional post-secondary education. The change in perceptions was critical for kickstarting interest in trades training because there was a denied but lingering snobbery about trades as careers.

“It wasn’t that long ago that trades were looked down on as ‘working with your hands,’ manual labour,” explains Terry Parker, executive director of Building Trades Alberta (BTA), promoting the interests of 18 Alberta local trade unions whose 60,000 members work in the residential, commercial and industrial construction, maintenance and fabrication industries. There has been a generational shift in perceptions.

“Partially because of the skilled trades shortage in most sectors, there is growing recognition and respect about the necessity and the skills of trades. Trades are now respected as highly trained and skilled professionals and being seen in a different light. As highly trained and skilled professionals. We are starting to see a parity of esteem, ultimately when a construction worker is treated the same as a doctor or a lawyer,” he says.

Jim Szautner, associate vice president of Academic and dean of Apprenticeship at SAIT mentions that the dated and condescending cliché is a stigma which trades professionals have been dealing with for years. “To be successful as a trades person, it requires whole body learning encompassing the head, hands and heart.

“Trades are the people who build and maintain the world arounds us, which requires an extensive amount of knowledge. This knowledge is married to precise physical skills to perform the tasks required to an expert level. And, when it all comes down to it, there are few better feelings a person can have than to look back at their work at the end of the day and see the tangible difference they made.”

He acknowledges but shakes his head about blue collar vs. white collar stereotypes. “We all need to work together to change the narrative of us versus them. Many trades professionals are also business owners, or have worked their way up in their organizations into leadership levels. All work is valuable! No matter the colour of your collar.”

Particularly throughout Alberta, trades training courses and apprenticeship programs are getting stepped-up. Rajan Sawhney, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education told Business in Calgary that, “Alberta continues to diversify and grow and as more people retire, the province is seeing an increase in demand for skilled workers and apprenticeship learning opportunities. Our government’s focus on training for in-demand jobs has resulted in doubling the enrolment in apprenticeship programs throughout the province over the last two years.”

At SAIT, trades programs are extremely popular, and viewed as pathways into rewarding careers. “We continue to promote the parity of esteem with the trades and are seeing some tangible movement,” Szautner points out.

“Now anyone who completes an apprenticeship program in Alberta will also receive a formal academic credential as recognition of their post-secondary education. Policy shifts like that helps to lift up everyone and provide trades professionals with the recognition they deserve.”

In Calgary, and throughout the province, the registration stats and enrollment trends show that skilled trades are an exciting career choice, and many are in high demand. Career paths in the skilled trades are full of potential, with more than 300 designated trades to choose from.

 

  • Construction offers careers for electricians, carpenters, plumbers, steamfitters/pipefitters, welders, heavy equipment operators and painters.
  • Transportation relies on automotive service technicians, heavy-duty equipment technicians, motorcycle technicians and more.
  • Manufacturing and Industrial includes automotive, product manufacturing and the resource extraction and processing industries, as well as tool and die makers, industrial mechanics (millwrights) and metal fabricators.
  • The Services sector relies on cooks, bakers, hairstylists, landscape horticulturists and others.
  • Information and Digital Technology skills are central to many trades, including instrumentation and control technicians, machinists and crane operators.

 

Szautner explains that SAIT offers education in 30 trades programs, and all of them are experiencing a boost in registration. “Where we are seeing great demand is in the motive power trades, where demand is high for automotive service technicians, heavy equipment technicians, auto body technicians and mobile crane operators.

“In the construction sector we are see demand in carpentry, pipe trades and refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic and electrician. In manufacturing we are seeing high demand for welders, industrial mechanics and machinists.”

At SAIT and all over, a key reason for the increased demand for trades courses and programs is a combination of increased economic activity, and retirements.

It is a contemporary no-brainer that technology is an essential must-have for most skilled trade careers. It is vital, often critical, for most trades to be up-to-date and current. Training experts emphasize that, when a person completes an apprenticeship program and becomes a journeyperson, their learning does not end. Rather, it is often the launching point for more learning.

The transportation sector is a perfect example,” he says. “New technology comes out every year, which automotive service technicians need to learn. This is furthered with the electrification of automobiles and other zero emission technology being incorporated into automobiles.”

Despite the sudden interest in trades programs and often registration waiting lists, qualifying to be a skilled trade – especially in Alberta – is not a guaranteed or limitless land of opportunity.

While the federal and provincial governments have intensified efforts to attract people to the skilled trades, with special emphasis on youth, women and people from underrepresented communities, in practical terms, the path to becoming a certified tradesperson, alias “journeyperson,” has speedbumps.

Confusing options, mixed messaging such as programs or organizations touting job placements not actually connected to apprenticeships, difficulty getting support with apprenticeship possibilities, and the realties of some – fewer than before – employer reluctance to take a chance and hire new and gung-ho apprentices can be a frustrating obstacle.

All things considered, the outlook – and the possibilities – for skilled trades is encouraging and strong. Training programs for the skilled trades are shorter and more affordable allowing individuals to begin a career faster and graduate with less accumulated debt.

Traditional academic programs are four years while on average trade programs are two years, allowing students to begin a career in half the time. There are many apprenticeship programs that offer on-the-job training that give individuals the opportunity to get paid while learning their trade.

The stats are undisputable. There are more job openings than there are skilled tradespeople to fill them.

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