Perhaps we are trading away our future?


thinkingTHUNDER BAY – There is a looming shortage of skilled tradespeople in our region, and beyond. Across Canada, there is a growing demand for skilled tradespersons. When I was a teen, and got my first car, I also started to learn how to do the basic maintainance that was required to keep it running. I had a Chevrolet Vega, and the level of knowledge needed to keep that first attempt at a small GM car going was key to keeping money in my wallet. Back in the day, young people learned trades starting in high school, and continuing into construction, mechanical jobs – the then labeled ‘blue-collar jobs’.

The trades are an important, and often overlooked component of our region’s future. They should not be, an aging population, and a growing Aboriginal population present opportunities. Many opportunities for home renovations, construction jobs and skilled trades will be likely over the next decades.

The North Superior Workforce Planning Board state, “The Thunder Bay District must address the challenge of a restricted labour supply given the faster rate of the aging population, a limited flow of immigrants to the region, the under-representation of the Aboriginal population in the workforce and the negative migration of youth and the core workforce (individuals aged 25 to 44 years) to provide the talent and skills needed to diversify its economic base. In spite of the current downturn, a key challenge is to have the labour force with the necessary skills to take advantage of opportunities that are emerging.

“Although there is not an impending labour shortage as seen by a growing unemployment rate, there exists a skills/demand disparity, given that a significant number of occupations are disappearing such as those in forestry, mechanics and transportation equipment operators. Meanwhile, there are insufficient labour resource

skills in occupations such as natural and applied sciences (i.e. engineers, chemists, biologists) and in business and finance (i.e. accountants, financial and human resource specialists)”.

Over time, for many young people, and their parents, the idea of a career in the trades dropped in both importance and interest. Many sought university degrees, rather than apprenticeships. Today however many young people do not appear all that interested in a career in the trades. Talking to people in the building trades, there is a growing shortage for skilled trades people in plumbing, tiling, carpentry, and mechanical trades.

It is an area that perhaps more young people should be exploring. Perhaps in Thunder Bay, where there is a long history of skilled trades, it is time to boost interest in the trades. One area where these skilled people will be needed is across Northwestern Ontario, especially in First Nations communities. Building the new homes, repairing homes, fixing vehicles, boat engines, and snowmobile engines are all needed skills that can, and will provide solid careers for many young people.

Now, that is not to suggest that we have put all our eggs in the basket of the knowledge-based economy. Today, the trades are as much a part of that economy as any other. The level of skill is there, and so too is the need for training. The steps toward making this happen will likely entail co-operation from educators, the federal and provincial governments, and from First Nations. The opportunities are there, it is simply a matter of planning to move forward and make a positive difference.

We should with educators, politicians and families be working toward this goal.

The entire region will benefit.

That of course is just my opinion, as always, your mileage may differ.

James Murray

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