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B.C. schools failing to prepare youth for skilled trades careers, apprentice says

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Bram is an apprentice electrician in BC
Bram Patola Moosman is an industrial electrician apprentice.

Lack of support for shop classes in B.C.’s public school system is hurting students who might consider choosing the trades as a career, a Vancouver apprentice electrician says.

“I’ve noticed a trend amongst the Vancouver School Board, specifically, where they are really neglecting the shop classes,” said Bram Patola Moosmann, who is halfway through a four-year program to become an industrial electrician with B.C. Hydro.

“A large part of the workforce is people who work with their hands and in order for that to be sustained there needs to be avenues in schools for people to go and learn those kinds of skills and get information about those career paths,” the 22-year-old said. “Currently there is not.”

“It’s really unfortunate because it’s kind of the main avenue for kids to get information about going into the trades and to get some foundational skills that will be able to help them when they are starting out.”

That’s important since research by Statistics Canada shows that kids as young as 15 are beginning to make career choices, with about one in 10 young people remaining with the same career choice at age 25 that they made at 15. It was even higher for young people with parents who valued higher education.

Bram isn’t the only Canadian concerned that public high schools are failing to support trades training.

Frank Stronach — founder of Ontario-based auto parts giant Magna International, who started out life as a 14-year-old tool-and-die maker apprentice — recently warned that Canada will face an “unprecedented shortage” of skilled tradespeople in the coming years if more isn’t done to promote trades training.

“The Conference Board of Canada, in a recent report, says the country needs half a million people to enter the skills trade sector over the next 10 years,” the 90-year-old Order of Canada recipient wrote in a March 14 column in the National Post.

“A number of factors are driving the shortage, including a lack of skilled trades apprenticeship programs, a lack of qualified teachers, and a lingering stigma associated with technical trades among young Canadians and their parents despite the fact that trade jobs often pay more than white collar jobs requiring a university degree.”

According to the most recent B.C. Student Outcomes Data for 2019 to 2021, 92 per cent of recently graduated tradespeople in all categories were satisfied with their careers and 99 per cent of them were working full time, earning a median hourly wage of $32. Just 4.1 per cent of them were unemployed.

Meanwhile, the average debt of new graduates with bachelor’s degrees was $28,000 in 2015, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, with 54 per cent of them being in debt when they graduated. Forty-five per cent needed further training and they had, as a group, a 6.9- per-cent unemployment rate.

Bram said he had a “really fantastic shop teacher” who was an early mentor in helping him decide to enter the trades. “He was constantly extremely frustrated at the school for not giving him basically any resources to do anything consistently, limiting the things he was allowed to do on grounds of safety, which is a little unfortunate,” he said.

The teacher became so frustrated that he quit, Bram said

“My little sister actually goes to that school and they’ve had a few different shop teachers in and out who basically can’t do anything,” he said. “They are either unqualified, or they are only there for limited periods of time or there is no shop teacher at all.”

The story parallels the experience of a young FORED BC volunteer in Vancouver who signed up for high school shop class this year only to be told that the teacher assigned to the class wasn’t qualified to teach the use of power tools. Later, a field trip for the class involved attending an indigenous hip hop music-making event — which was interesting but had little to do with learning how to use tools.

While Bram said he hasn’t experienced any stigma against learning a trade — and felt people in the school system were “very encouraging” — he said the idea of taking up a trade doesn’t enter the minds of many students, “especially if you go through high school not doing any shop classes or anything of that nature.”

“It’s very easy to just see everybody around me is going to university, all of these classes are preparing me for university, but [taking up a trade is] something that’s worth considering,” he said. “It’ll give you a much better head start in life financially compared to university in the vast majority of cases.”

Successive Liberal and NDP governments in B.C. have made multiple announcements about investments in skilled trades training, but massive trades shortages persist. “It is predicted that an additional one million job openings will be available over the next decade, with 117,000 openings in the skilled trades, according to B.C.’s latest Labour Market Outlook,” reported by Business in Vancouver.

Stronach wrote that he would expose young people to at least four trades as part of their high-school education “outside of school — at factories, auto shops and restaurants.”

Bram said school boards need to “do more to support the shop teachers and to get shop teachers who are actually able to teach what they are supposed to be teaching and give them the resources to do so. The infrastructure is already there,” he said. “High schools already have shops. They all have their tools.”

The Vancouver Sun recently reported that the teaching profession itself appears to be having a tough time attracting males to the career, which may also account for the shortage of qualified shop teachers. "The shortage of male teachers is part of a larger vocational problem in society, where, despite women’s advances in many fields, some sectors are becoming increasingly segregated by gender." Trades has the opposite problem, where only 5% in the sector are female. Skilled Trades BC is profiling some of those women in videos here. The trades shortages can't be ignored if we want people who can build our homes, fix our cars or appliances and plug those plumbing leaks!

Here are five helpful educational resources to help youth explore these opportunties:

Trades offer fabulous careers for men and women alike
Eying a trades career?


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