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January 15, 2014

More youth considering a career in the skilled trades

Today's Canadian youth are more open to considering a career in the skilled trades than they were in 2004, according to a study from the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF).

“That’s good and it does indicate that messages are getting through about opportunity and good pay,” said CAF executive director Sarah Watts-Rynard.

“That means that the skilled trades community is providing better information than we have in the past.”

According to Apprenticeship Analysis: Youth Perceptions of Careers in the Skilled Trades, 46 per cent of surveyed youth said they would consider pursing a career in the skilled trades, compared with 29 per cent in 2004.

Last spring CAF surveyed 873 students aged 13 to 17 across the country, comparing results to findings from a parallel investigation in 2004.

In 2004, eight per cent of respondents had worked in the trades, compared to 36 per cent in 2013.

The construction sector was mentioned most often, followed by automotive and manufacturing.

A higher percentage of respondents viewed a career in the skilled trades as “better than” a career in law, business or accounting.

They were also more aware of available career options and reported a better understanding of the apprenticeship process.

Information about careers in the skilled trades was also more readily available than in 2004, with the Internet, teachers, relatives and guidance counselors as some of the top resources for students.

Both surveys showed that youth did not feel their parents, guidance counselors or friends encouraged them to consider the skilled trades and students identified a university degree as their first-choice post-secondary option.

Watts-Rynard said providing labour market information is not enough to encourage students to enter the trades and that decisions are partially made on role models.

“That’s a key message for the skilled trades community to think about — how can we engage, inspire, provide mentors, provide opportunity to see what this job would be all about?” she said.

“We have to recognize that young people sometimes make decisions based on what their heart tells them rather than solid labour market information.”

Moving forward, the study suggested additional outreach to teachers, parents and guidance counselors to make more progress about youth seeing the skilled trades as a first-choice career.

In their comments, students recognized the value of hands-on learners, the importance of work you enjoy and the important contribution of tradespeople, states the report.

A quarter of respondents in 2004 and 2013 indicated that skilled trades careers are better suited to males than females.

Students in both surveys said careers in the skilled trades are valued, contribute to quality of life in their communities and offer an opportunity to earn money while they learn.

Respondents in the 2013 survey were less likely than the 2004 respondents to agree that the skilled trades will always be in demand.

Watts-Rynard said that is a reasonable perception considering the recent global recession where she said skilled trades jobs had the quickest decline but also had a relatively quick rebound.

“Young people might see that and say that’s not a very safe option for me because I can’t guarantee that I’ll always be employed,” she said.

“That speaks to: now what do you do as a community to address that.”

Though the report gave the apprenticeship community mostly good news, Watts-Rynard said it also gave them areas to work on.

The study suggested a career progression study over a number of years could support the apprenticeship community’s ability to provide evidence that careers in the skilled trades lead to varied career opportunities.

CAF will host its Skilled Trades Summit 2014 in Ottawa June 1-3.

The summit will focus on issues such as how to attract more youth to a career in the skilled trades.

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