Parents “fly in the ointment” in initiatives to encourage young people to consider construction trades careers

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Educational consultants Liana Pagotto (left) and Alanna Trines speaking at a recent GOHBA reno council meeting

Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Educators and renovators outlined the practical challenges of encouraging high school students to consider careers in the construction trades when representatives of the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) visited a recent Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) renovators’ council meeting.

Educational consultants Alanna Trines and Liana Pagotto described the school district’s success in encouraging students to consider hands-on trades careers – and sought input and support from renovators, who say they are having trouble recruiting young people to work at their businesses.

Pagotto, who serves as the school district’s Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) co-ordinator and works with students and teachers in the school system on technological education programs, said the 15-high-school district is scoring well above the provincial average in placing students in trades career paths.

“Based on the most recently reported school board data by the Ministry of Training, College and Universities for 2016-17, we are three percentage points ahead of the province,” she said, describing the school district’s OYAP participation level. “Provincially its 5%. At the OCSB, it’s 8.1%.”

Renovators in the room provided some clues about why the other 91.9 % of students are not electing to participate in the program, which includes on-the-job work opportunities and accelerated entry into apprenticeships.

“For us, we’ve had many conversation around this table, and we keep going back to the parents,” said one of the renovators. “(The parents) yes, are the major influence. . . but they’re also the ones pushing for higher education, and not the trades.”

In other words, while educators and employers are willing to engage and encourage young people to consider construction careers, they face a block from parents who hold the stereotypical views that careers in the industry are second- or last-resort options.

Speakers at the meeting said the challenge is that while some young people whose parents are in the trades are naturally graduating to similar careers, it is truly difficult to reach the students who might be ideal for construction careers, but whose parents don’t work in the industry.

This is despite the evidence provided by OYAP that apprenticeship can lead to high-paying careers, without the burden of student debt. An OYAP poster originally published in 2016 reports that 100 per cent of students have jobs in their chosen fields when they complete their apprenticeships, with starting salaries ranging from $30,000 to $60,000.  In contract, only 72 per cent of university graduates have jobs relating to their field, and end up with $37,000 in student debt.

Pagotto encouraged renovators to work with her and Alanna in making themselves available as resources for trades/vocational teachers, perhaps speaking or attending classes and encouraging or co-ordinating site-visits for high school students. And of course, the speakers said, they encourage contractors to contact the school district if they can offer co-op, summer and pre-apprenticeship opportunities to their students.

That said, it will be a challenge to change perceptions.

One contractor described how his business works with young people, gives them summer jobs, annual raises, and plenty of support and opportunities as they develop in their careers. “And when they graduate, they want to stay with us,” he said.

“But I will add that I hate to put the fly in the ointment,” the renovator said. “But you are battling the parents, right.”

In some cases, the renovator said, the parents tell their children that it is okay if they want to work at construction as a summer job, but they should not make that their career. And the young people who would have started on the career path instead head off to college or university for an academic degree, he indicated.

“Although parental perception of the trades is a challenge, we also have an opportunity to work together with our community partners to change that perception,” Pagotto said. “Our educators work hard to profile the excellent career options in the skilled trades.

“As educators, we have the unique opportunity to be the voice of the industry to our students and parent community. But this message is made stronger when we have strong relationships with our industry partners.”

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