High school students could be fully trained plumbers and electricians by age 20
Windsor-Essex students aim for high-demand skilled trades positions
Windsor-Essex electricians and plumbers could be fully qualified to work by the time they are 20 years old.
That's if they take advantage of an expanding skilled trades program on which the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board and St. Clair College have been collaborating.
"I was doing work around the house with my mom ... it really interested me — hands on work — it would be really cool to help people build houses," said Kaelyn Kapsalis as she sanded one of her projects in the board's Construction Academy.
"It's like a creation of what you've done. You feel good about it,"
Kapsalis doesn't know what her future holds after Grade 11, but she does know construction will be part of it. She said the apprenticeship hours she's been logging gives her a head start on everyone else in the trade.
Since the school board started the Construction Academy, more students are landing jobs in skills trades. This year, 28 students will graduate and they have already found jobs. Last year, there were 18.
"There's still room for growth. The problem is our growth has really done well in our program, but we have to catch up to the rate of retirement...and that's what's happening," said Cory McAiney, an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) consultant with the school board.
Being the only girl in this trade right now is empowering for other women, so I stuck with it.- Shelby Dunn, Level 2 Masonry
That's why trade unions have approached the school board, said McAiney.
"The contractors out there contacted us to try to address those needs. We have to start putting out more students. We've done a good job, but we can do better and we're going to continue to grow to address those needs."
McAiney said the shortage of skilled labour is likely to continue for the next 25 years.
"The government is pumping money into companies to encourage more hiring, but that isn't helping the training programs that prepare students before they are 20 years old," said Dan Fister, executive superintendent for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.
It was more that it was an art, and I fell in love with the art of it- Shelby Dunn, Level 2 Masonry
The government funds OYAP but the group wants more. Fister said more schools would probably support a program like a Construction Academy if they could afford it.
Plus, getting kids into the trades at a younger age shows them what it's actually like.
"I think it's to dispel the myths of the skill trades. It's dirty. It's difficult, back-breaking work, and it's minimum wage," said Fister. "Those are all falsehoods."
Being a girl in the trades
For Shelby Dunn, those falsehoods couldn't be further from how she feels about the skills she's learning.
"It was more that it was an art, and I fell in love with the art of it," said Dunn, who is completing Level 2 in masonry. "It's like you're playing with big Legos, just building a wall and I find that really interesting."
It's a skilled trade Dunn wasn't even aware of before she entered high school.
Although she enjoys the work, Dunn said it's still a bit tough being a woman on the job.
"A lot of the guys put you down and they make you feel like you can't do it," she said. "I almost quit because they made me feel like I couldn't do it because I was a girl. But I learned that being a girl, you shouldn't be afraid of the other guys and you have to show that girls can do it, too. Being the only girl in this trade right now is empowering for other women, so I stuck with it."
Dunn said other girls shouldn't be afraid to try it.