LILLEY: Schools to emphasize skilled trades

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Stephen Lecce wants kids across Ontario’s school system to know that the skilled trades are a viable career path and not just something you can “fall back on.”

The newly-minted education minister was at Toronto’s Humber College this week speaking with students in grades 7, 8 & 9 who are taking part in Skills Ontario Summer Camp, a program to give kids a taste of hands on learning.

“I want to work in the early years to encourage young people to consider these jobs,” Lecce said.

The minister says with events like the summer camp, held at locations across Ontario, and by working with teachers, guidance counsellors and the private sector, he wants to make sure skilled trades are considered a first option.

When I was in school I tell the minister, teachers portrayed the skilled trades as something you did if you couldn’t cut it in university.

“That stereotype needs to end right now,” Lecce said.

It’s part of a new emphasis on skilled trades that the Ford government has been pushing since being elected, and was started under previous minister Lisa Thompson.

Now Minister Lecce, who went to university and worked in politics his whole adult life, says we need to focus on this part of the economy in ways previous governments haven’t.

He describes not only job shortages, but opportunities for exciting and rewarding careers.

“I wanted to go there because I think it is important for politicians to champion the skilled trades because they are good paying jobs,” Lecce said of his time with students at the skills camp.

Ontario is facing a labour shortage, Premier Doug Ford told reporters at the recent premiers’ meeting.

“Need a job? Come to Ontario,” Ford said last Thursday in Saskatoon.

“We need 250,000 people to fill the jobs that are there. We have a labour shortage in Ontario.”

Many of these are in the skilled trades, jobs that can’t be filled without importing workers because there are not enough people looking into fields ranging from tech to construction.

“By 2021, we are seeing that 1 in 5 jobs will be in the skilled trades,” Lecce said.

“I want to see the next generation be able to aspire to reach that potential, to have decent incomes, to be able to own a home, to help their children to retire with dignity,” said the minister.

It is a new approach for Ontario’s schools.

I can tell you that when I was in school, this was not a career path that was explained to me.

With four kids, three still in high school, this is not something that is fully or properly explained to students now.

There is a value in going to university and getting a degree, but there’s also value in going into the trades and getting a ticket to a rewarding career that for too long our schools have downplayed.

Minister Lecce may not have that experience himself, but like me says that he has plenty of family members in the trades and sees the benefits.

Let’s hope the next generation sees the benefits as well.

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