Home Month and Year August 2023 The Importance of Trades Training

The Importance of Trades Training

Blue collar vs. white collar

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When it comes to skilled trades, especially in the Edmonton region, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news? It is common knowledge, particularly by governments and many businesses, that there is a dire skilled labour shortage – and it is getting worse.

So, what’s the good news, especially in the Edmonton area? There are lots of skilled trade opportunities with the construction, transportation, manufacturing and industrial, information and digital technology and services sectors scrambling and clamoring to recruit qualified, skilled workers.

Construction is an often-cited example, which is already plagued with skilled trade shortages. According to BuildForce Canada, the construction sector council (despite new jobs being created combined with the current rate of retirement), some 113,000 new workers will be needed in the non-industrial construction sector by 2027. About 100,000 of those jobs will require skilled trades.

However, there is additional good news, particularly for the Edmonton area. There are many options and opportunities for skilled trades and apprenticeship training. The sudden demand and popularity of a career in trades is also a subtle part of a long-term transformation and updating of the stale cliché that used to consider trades as an inferior default option to conventional post-secondary education.

To be blunt, there used to be a certain snobbery about trades as careers.

“Trades are now respected as highly trained and skilled professionals,” says Terry Parker, executive director of the Building Trades Alberta (BTA), an organization that promotes the interests of 18 Alberta local trade unions whose 60,000 members work in residential, commercial and industrial construction along with maintenance and fabrication industries.

“But it wasn’t that long ago that trades were looked down on as ‘working with your hands’ manual labour. There has been a generational shift in perceptions. There is growing recognition and respect about the necessity and the skills of trades. They are being seen in a different light, as highly trained and skilled professionals. We are starting to see a parity of esteem, ultimately when a construction worker is treated the same as a doctor or a lawyer.”

Rajan Sawhney, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education, told Business in Edmonton that, “Alberta continues to diversify and grow and as more people retire, the province is seeing an increase in demand for skilled workers and apprenticeship learning opportunities. Our government’s focus on training for in-demand jobs has resulted in doubling the enrolment in apprenticeship programs throughout the province over the last two years.”

NAIT and NorQuest College are at the forefront of the surge in demand for skilled trades training, although NorQuest’s focus is more workforce-oriented without a Red Seal component.

“Skilled tradespeople play a vital role in the growth of our province,” notes Matt Lindberg, dean of the School of Skilled Trades at NAIT. “Focused government and industry marketing efforts and initiatives have resulted in the start of a shift in attitudes towards trades as a viable and respected career choice.

“There is a growing recognition of the value and importance of skilled trades as the integration and adoption of technology become more prevalent in the related industries. An increasing demand for skilled trades professionals and potential for lucrative salaries and entrepreneurial opportunities has contributed to changing perceptions.”

The current climate of skill training is eliminating the stale perceptions of “blue collar vs. white collar” jobs and qualifications.

“The labels are outdated and do not reflect the reality of modern workplaces,” Lindberg says. “The stereotypical differential between these career paths is negligible. Many skilled trades require diverse skillsets including high levels of technical knowledge and applications, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which are traditionally associated with ‘white collar’ professions.”

Todd Matsuba, associate dean of NAIT’s School of Skilled Trades emphasizes that “Both career paths offer unique opportunities for personal growth, financial success and job satisfaction through career progression and lifelong learning opportunities.

“The shift in perceptions is causing students to embrace the contemporary reality of new career goals. They are focused on education and training that provides clear pathways to employment, financial stability and opportunities for career progression.”

Lindberg and Matsuba are unanimous that, more and more, students want programs that offer industry-relevant practical skills, hands-on experiences and opportunities for industry connections and work-integrated learning. Students are also looking for pathways for lifelong learning. Lindberg and Matsuba emphasize that today’s students are seeking programs that provide flexibility and opportunities for upskilling and reskilling throughout their careers.

At NorQuest College, there is also proof that the dated “blue collar vs. white collar” and “trades vs. conventional education” cliché is being transformed. Heather Kitteringham, dean of Academic Strategy & Integration; Patti Hergott, dean of Research & Academic Innovation and Nicole Kean, senior academic development specialist, see the changes every day.

“The rise of alternative credentials, including micro-credentials, is testimonial to some of the old distinctions between credentials fading,” Kitteringham says. “Degrees are still popular and well-respected but, increasingly, so are alternative paths to competency and skill attainment—everything from diplomas to badges to micro-credentials.”

Hergott notes that, “NorQuest College has a history of vocational programs and we have explored more apprenticeship-style program ideas as we continue to increase work-integrated learning opportunities for students. The system will require a shift in employers wanting to participate to that level for these to be successful.”

The transition is driven by the wants, needs and expectations of students.

“Learners who attend community colleges are often extrinsically motivated and are looking for shorter opportunities to upskill and advance their careers,” Kean says. “They are motivated by career outcomes.”

NorQuest College surveyed learners in 2018-2019 and found that 56 per cent were enrolled in programs to prepare for a career, while approximately 25 per cent were interested in future post-secondary opportunities. There is also increased demand for online and blended learning opportunities as “more options attract a variety of learners.”

Business and industry are changing. Careers are changing. Student needs are changing. Trades training is changing. Stats and trends show that skilled trades are an exciting career choice and many trades are in high demand. Career paths in the skilled trades are full of potential, with more than 300 designated trades to choose from.

 

  • Construction offers high-demand careers for electricians, carpenters, plumbers, steamfitters/pipefitter, welders, heavy equipment operators and painters.

 

  • Transportation relies on automotive service technicians, heavy-duty equipment technicians, motorcycle technicians and more.

 

  • Manufacturing and industrial include automotive, product manufacturing and the resource extraction and processing industries, as well as tool and die makers, industrial mechanics (millwrights) and metal fabricators.

 

  • The services sector relies on cooks, bakers, hairstylists, landscape horticulturists, and more.

 

  • Information and digital technology skills are central to many trades, including instrumentation and control technicians, machinists and crane operators.

 

“NAIT’s skilled trades programs have all experienced fluctuation in demand to some degree,” Lindberg says. “The demand for skilled trades professionals is influenced by many factors, including changes in industry practices, economic conditions and technological advancements.  It is essential to regularly assess and align programs with industry demands.”

Particularly for the gamut of trades courses, the expectations of students are constantly changing.

“Students have come to expect value for their dollar, ability to find employment soon after graduation and flexibility in modality and pace of education,” Hergott points out. “In all programs, the number of students employed continues to be strong and growing.”

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