Last week, the big news of the day was the unveiling of the much-anticipated federal budget. Although some sectors were able to let out a sigh of relief that a huge axe had not fallen, there was one sector that was brought up time and again in a positive light: The Skilled Trades.
The Tory government under Harper has promised to offer incentives to people who wish to pursue trades training to bolster a perceived cross-country shortage. The incentive allows some of those taking trades to be eligible for upwards of $15,000.00 in training allowances.
There had been a great deal of anticipation of this announcement, with many pre-release murmurs of how this was a pro-trades budget. When the dust settled, the Provinces were left responsible for some of the financial burden and rumblings of “How are we going to pay for this” began. Quebec responded to the announcement with some resentment, as it is their view that they, not the feds, should decide how to train their workers. Finally, there was some discontent that this money was not new funding, but simply being transferred in from other areas. But, Quebec and shrinking budgets aside, this was good news for at least some Canadians.
Nova Scotia has a strong skilled trades base. It also has, in my humble opinion, some of the finest trades training facilities in the country. As well, we have a public school system that provides several exceptional programs that work alongside the trades sector, such as the Options and Opportunities program and the ever popular high school co-op program. These programs have seen a great deal of success in the past few years, and continue to flourish. Some institutions, such as the Construction Association of Nova Scotia (CANS) have actually partnered with schools to allow students the chance to not only train in their chosen profession, but have developed programs whereby the students gain employment during the summer and also receive apprenticeship hours.
Now, although there is a certain appeal to the trades and the promise of jobs they provide, there is a cautionary note here. In the 80s and early 90s, there was a distinct move away from the trades as a viable career path, with the message being that if you wanted a good job, University was the way to go. Now we find ourselves preaching a similar sounding mantra to this generation, with seemingly just as much conviction.
But even if the ship building contract comes to fruition, are we selling our kids short? Will there be jobs for them in the trades? I’ve heard it said recently that we in Nova Scotia are not necessarily suffering from a lack of skilled trades people, but, rather that we are suffering from a lack of skilled trades people who are willing to stay on the East Coast and work for half the money they can earn “Out West”. Are we are training this generation to again, just go on down the road?
As well, there is some disagreement about where the gaps actually exist between those looking for work and those looking for workers. Recently, CIBC’s deputy chief economist, Benjamin Tal, told MacLean’s magazine that although there may be some need for filling spots in the skilled trades, there is a much higher need in areas that actually require a post secondary degree. These fields include such science heavy professions as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dietitians.
The skilled trades have certainly been in spotlight here in Nova Scotia, and that, in many regards, is a good thing. However, there is a part of me that we worries that we must not be too trades heavy in our educational focus. Oil is a business of boom and bust. Government contracts can disappear in a flash. I have heard it commented that we in Canada have far too many young people with bachelor’s degrees working at minimum wage jobs. Let’s try to ensure that we are not, in our haste to employ our youth, saying the same thing about skilled trades workers ten years from now.