What's the answer to trades shortage?
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | December 14, 2017|
When I was in Grade 12, at a high school just outside of Sudbury, I wish that someone – a guidance counsellor, teacher, or even one of my parents – had suggested I get into the trades.
Like many female graduates of my generation, I was encouraged to go to university instead, where I ended up getting a Bachelor of Journalism degree with a combined honours in history.
Luckily, I’ve been able to find steady work in journalism, with the exception of one newspaper being closed on me without notice. However, I wonder what my life would be like today if I were a miner, an electrician, a plumber or a carpenter?
Not to knock my chosen profession, but I would likely have far greater job security and be earning a whole lot more money.
So, this recurring theme of Haliburton County’s skilled trades shortage has me scratching my head. Why don’t our high school graduates want to go to trade school, and then come back and work?
Looking at the latest Stats Can data from 2016, people in the trades had an average hourly wage of $25.85 in 2016. That doesn’t include overtime, either, which I’m told there is plenty of in Haliburton County. We’re told by groups such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce that these careers are only going to get more financially lucrative due to the rising demand for skilled labour.
Older Stats Can data indicates the highest earners are electricians, followed by crane operators and plumbers. Other construction trades and carpenters follow.
One knock is young people have to work very hard and don’t make a lot of money when they first start out, usually apprenticing under somebody. But, the thing is, they are being trained and within a few years of becoming a journeyperson, some tradespeople can double their salary. With overtime, some hit the six-digit mark. Not bad for a boy or girl from Haliburton County in their 20’s.
In some cases, what’s happening is our grads are opting to go to university or college to get what they think is a prestige degree, only to find there is no work in their chosen field. So, they end up working at minimum wage jobs instead.
Others argue it has nothing to do with choosing to pursue a future in the trades, or good money, but everything to do with a lack of amenities in the county that make it attractive for our youth to return. That is a very real challenge.
If they love the outdoors, it isn’t so tough. However, many crave a night life and that just isn’t available here. It’s been long documented that we don’t have enough affordable housing. Some people do their grocery shopping out of town because they find it too expensive here. And, what if they don’t have a car or truck? With no public transportation, they have to rely on a boss, colleague or family to get them to and from work. It’s far from ideal.
The Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce has been making its rounds of municipal councils espousing a workforce development tool, aimed at encouraging small businesses to set up shop here. They’re planning to spend $10,000 on a video. In their presentation, they talk about looming workforce shortages, for cooks, retail managers, salespeople, etc.
However, they – and our elected officials – really need to address the ever-present shortage of skilled tradespeople in the county. To do that, they have to take a critical look at those very real barriers we’ve mentioned, such as quality of life issues, affordable housing and cost of living, and public transportation.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.