The future of trades in a changing world

With increased automation, the need for skilled tradespeople is growing
Jennifer Green in Calgary competing in the 2008 Industrial Millwright Competition at Skills Canada. (Courtesy Jennifer Green)

Along with all the fears over potential job losses caused by robotics and automation, there's still a shortage of workers in many areas -- and not every thriving career related to technology involves writing code.

There continues to be an increased demand for workers in the skilled trades.

That comes as no surprise to Jennifer Green. Almost a decade ago she entered an apprenticeship to pursue a career as an industrial millwright and worked in that trade for many years. An industrial millwright, Jennifer explains, is a "machine doctor" and adds, "It was my job to diagnose and troubleshoot, find the problem and get it running again."
Industrial millwright Jennifer Green (Courtesy Jennifer Green)

Jennifer is not concerned about automation putting tradespeople out of a job and believes that it may actually create more work for people in the skilled trades.

"The machines that were already there creating, let's say a part, they're still going to be there," Jennifer says. "The robot is one more piece of equipment, one more thing that can break down, one more thing that needs maintaining. So you're still going to need the tradesperson, in my trade, to still look after that and keep it going."

Despite a need for skilled workers to fill good-paying jobs in the trades, there's still a stigma about apprenticeships being less desirable than a university education. "Unfortunately it's a stereotype that has stuck. It's been ground into the minds of people over decades. It's slowly changing but the push is still there for university."    

Today Jennifer has moved to a position as a Maintenance Planner and Scheduler for a school board but continues to be an advocate for careers in the trades, working with organizations such as Skills Ontario. She also works as a mentor to young women and men seeking careers in the trades.

"I didn't have a mentor. It was something that I so desperately needed at the age I started, and being a female in a male-dominated trade."

She says working one-on-one to help people starting out in the trades is "something that's dear to my heart, that I still work on to this day."