High school students can now test drive a career before fully committing to jobs they may eventually dislike.
The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program allows students the opportunity to become registered apprentices and work towards becoming certified journeypersons in a skilled trade while completing their secondary school diplomas.
Dan Fister, superintendent of education for student success and alternative education at the Greater Essex District School Board, said parents and students need to consider the trades, especially in light of the high unemployment rate among youth.
"Parents have to understand that the promising sectors in our community — for a strong community — are tied to the skilled trades," he said.
Shortages across Canada
Several people left Windsor's skilled trades sector when the recession dealt a hefty blow to the city’s manufacturing sector. Several more people are approaching retirement age during an automotive and manufacturing rebound.
Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association told CBC News earlier this year, that by 2020, Canada will need an additional 320,000 skilled construction workers.
The oil and gas industry alone estimates it will be short 5,000 skilled workers over the next three years, and will need hundreds of thousands over the next two decades.
Two weeks ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne toured manufacturing plants in Windsor. Wynne was particularly interested in the shortage of skilled trades workers.
"How do we match the labour market with our labour force? How do we work together with the post-secondary institutions, like colleges, universities and the skilled trades organizations? How do they work with the government and private sector to provide opportunities for those who have the skills in our labour market?" Wynne said. "We talked about the things government has to do to work in partnership with all the people involved in creating jobs and training people."
'Who doesn't like to make money?'
High school student Gage Demarce participated in the OYAP program. Last year, he worked in a mold shop where he earned $35,000 and course credits.
"I thought it was a great opportunity. You get great work experience and make a little money. Who doesn’t like to make money?" he said. "If you’re smart with your money, you still have the money to go to school."
*Source: Government of Canada
Interest in the OYAP program is on the rise in Windsor-Essex. In the 2008-2009 school year,187 students participated in it, compared to 302 in 2011-2012.
Not only trades apprenticeships are offered. Co-op placements in hairdressing, auto repair, metal cutting and hospitality and tourism are also offered.
"When there’s a great demand, we encourage students to take a look," Fister said. "We have to encourage community partners and industry to accept more of our students and encourage more of our students to do it, and not just during the traditional school day."
Fister said the program may allow students to work at night or on the weekends.
In Switzerland, the youth unemployment rate is 2.8 per cent. That’s the lowest in the developed world. Canada’s youth unemployment rate is currently hovering around 14 per cent. In Switzerland, government, schools and employers work together to ensure that education and training are linked to employment.
'I'm a big fan of co-op'
In Windsor, Melanie Gardin is lawyer who accepted her first co-op placement student this year.
"I am a big fan of co-op, I always have been," said Gardin, a former co-op student. "I always thought I wanted to go law school. If I could work in a law office, that would help me decide. And it did.
"I’m a firm believer if you give a student the chance to shine and students are interested in what they’re doing, you’ll be amazed at what they accomplish."
Gardin said she wants her co-cop students to see, "the mundane things that happen in the law office," and deal with , "day-to-day files," just to make sure they know everything about the job.
Aaliyah Jee, a Grade 11 student at Riverside High School, did her placement for Gardin and now works part-time for her.
"This really showed me I want to be a lawyer," Jee said. "Photocopying papers and looking over case files, that’s not boring to me."