Monday May 05, 2014

Skilled Trades vs. Liberal Arts: What creates the best workforce?

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Governments tell us there is a shortage of skilled trade workers for well-paying jobs. As B.C. shifts towards a new educational policy encouraging more students to become skilled in the trades, we're confronting the debate that won't go away. How do we guide the post-secondary choices of students at a time when entry level jobs are hard to find?

 

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum wants students to consider a career in the skilled trades. It wants students to know there's no shortage of jobs that will keep them off an office chair and on their feet: welding, carpentry, hairdressing, and more. And last week, the government of British Columbia announced a plan to encourage more students to become skilled in the trades.

"We want students to be able to find their fit earlier so that they know where they want to go and what the opportunities are for them in this great province. That's why we're re-engineering our education system right from kindergarten through post-secondary, and we really believe in lifelong learning opportunities."

Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education

"B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint" says it will graduate students "from learners to earners" by channeling $160-million dollars to provide training for jobs in high-demand. The program will re-engineer the entire education system - from primary school, to post-secondary, to apprenticeship programmes. A similar shift is underway elsewhere in the country as well, raising the question of how to balance the humanities and liberal arts with the trades in a changing labour market and economy.

"I think some of the concerns that I have, and that I'm hearing from some parents particularly in public system is whether or not this is kind of a return to the old streaming that we used to see: where some students in certain socio-economic classes, for example, might have been encouraged to move towards the trades, where others from more affluent backgrounds might be driven more to the university track."

Patti Bacchus, Chair of the Vancouver School Board

Sarah Watts-Rynard is the Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. She was in Montreal.

Don Tapscott is the Chancellor of Trent University and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. He was in our Toronto studio.

Tell us what you think about education priorities...how much should job preparation be the driving force? What priorities would you like to see?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Cynthia Vukets and Pacinthe Mattar.