Ontario new skilled trades school program long overdue


A young friend of our paper bought a fixer upper to house his family. With house prices starting at a million dollars, a fixer upper is about all a young family can afford if they are to have a place of their own. 

This young man and his wife are good with their hands, and took on the job of bringing their humble acquisition up to living standards. However, some of the jobs that needed to be done, like plumbing, required the skills of a qualified tradesman. Furthermore, they both have fulltime jobs, so they also needed help to do some work that they could do for themselves – like drywalling – because they couldn’t find the time. They managed to find a plumber because he was a personal friend, but there was a four-week wait to get a drywaller’s attention; they were too busy on other projects. Multiply that story by many hundreds, and you get the picture of the dire shortage of skilled tradespersons in Ontario and the rest of Canada.

The shortage is nothing new. We could go as far as the turn of the 20th century when Europeans came to Canada to fill what they called “the need for inexpensive labour”, but for the time being, going back ten years will suffice. Even then, according to Jason Burggraaf, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association, the industry had been sounding the alarm bells for the last ten years. The demand never eased, made worse as the housing market remained extremely high during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore welcome the Ontario government’s plan to allow students to leave school to train in the skilled trades while being able to get their high school graduation diploma.

However, we will not go overboard in praise of the initiative, simply because every government since the turn of the century knew full well that a country cannot be built without tradespersons. That is obvious; all one needs to do is look around to realize that those remarkable structures we now protect as heritage buildings sites did not emerge out of thin air. And the need to continue building them will always be there as long as the population grows. That it did and continued to do with predictable regularity; in 1945, Canada’s population was around 12 million, it’s now 38 million.

In defence of governments of the last few decades, they were faced with baby boomers, who built and maintained the structures but were retiring and were not being replaced. Furthermore, the stigma associated with being a tradesperson sent a generation to universities and starved the labour market of new recruits.

Fortunately, the stats indicate that those who went into the trades enjoyed stable and higher paying jobs than the average university graduate. The stats are saying the same thing today. Tradespersons are in demand, the pay is excellent, and the stigma once associated with the building trades is a thing of the pass.

Young people are seeing a future that bodes well for them for a change. And best of all, a whole new world has opened up for women, and they are grabbing it with both hands.

That’s the best news we have had for many years.