High schools making skilled trades a priority with programs tailored to specific fields

As the employment gaps grow in the skilled trades workforce, the education sector is trying to help. Ontario high schools, including those in Sudbury, have special programs which focus on trades, and teachers are encouraging students to explore those options.

Schools offer bundled courses for students interested in specific careers and trades

Grade 9 students Annika Matusch and Erin Kottick work on their final project for their Engineering Design and Innovative Technology class at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. They learned several trades skills throughout the semester of the class. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

As the employment gap grows in the skilled trades workforce, the education sector is trying to help. 

Ontario high schools, including those in Sudbury, have special programs which focus on trades, and teachers are encouraging students to explore those options.

At Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School in Sudbury, Dan Monti's Grade 9 students are working to finish their final project of the semester.

Dan Monti is a teacher at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School in Sudbury. He is also the lead for the school Specialized High Skills Major program. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

They're working in groups within the engineering and robotics lab, and using some of the skills they've just learned in the fields of carpentry and manufacturing.

Students get a chance to try different trades, which Monti hopes will spark an interest in a future career.

"Anytime the students are exposed to more opportunities when they're trying to select a career or pathway I think that's a good thing for them, whether they decide to go into it or decide to do something different," he said.

What's a SHSM?

Most high schools offer several tailored courses, called Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs, where 8-9 courses are bundled around a career field.

Some of those SHSMs include a focus on trades like construction, manufacturing, and auto service.

The school has a full machine shop, wood shop and a transportation shop for students to learn skills applicable to trades like construction and auto service. Plus company representatives are pursuing students who show an interest.

Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School has a full transportation area for students to learn about the auto service industry. The school also has a full wood shop and machine shop. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

"We've had industry people come into our shop and provide feedback, as well as actually provide job opportunities," Monti said. "Several of our students are now working at some of our sponsors for the program," 

Students can also participate in a co-operative experience with an employer to get practical, hands-on experience.

"Often times they are networking. They're creating those community connections and then they're connecting to some of the colleges within the city of Greater Sudbury that offer these programs," said Lo-Ellen Park principal Pamela Potvin.

Jody Jakubo is the program coordinators of the Specialized High Skills Major program for all nine high school at the Rainbow District School Board. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

"[Taking courses within a SHSM] certainly opens up doors for students, it allows them a look at a career without committing to it," said Jody Jakubo, SHSM program coordinator for Rainbow District Schools Board.

"I think students want to be a part of a SHSM program because of all the extras that they're getting. It definitely puts them at an advantage."

Jakubo says there are currently more than 500 students across the Rainbow Board's nine high schools enrolled in these specialized programs.

"Our footprint keeps going up," she said. "Last year there was only 18 per cent of students that were enrolled in an SHSM, and this year we have 23 per cent."

Industry turning to high schools to find new workers

Jakubo, who is also in charge of the board's co-operative education program, says she's had many more employers reach out who want summer co-op students.

"They're looking for students with the sector-specific certifications. These students are coming job-ready and [the employers] are able to put them to work right away," she said.

The board's guidance counsellors are also trying to provide options for students interested in pursuing the skilled trades.

"As a board we're trying to prioritize skilled trades– inform our guidance counsellors, to inform our teachers, so that everybody knows what's out there for students, and they're able to support them with making decisions about their future," she said.


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to


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