Are skilled trades the better choice for Canadians?



 Are you thinking about going to University? Maybe you should think about trading up and getting involved in the trades.

There used to be a time when the working class were the ones filling the skilled trades positions within Canada and other countries.

The middle and upper class went to University and took the higher paying jobs and that was the way life was.

As the times changed more and more people decided that going to University was the better choice in finding a career.

This increase of students has had some negative effects one of which is the shortage of skilled trades people in the industry.


Wages and debt


Some of the other side effects are decreased wages in some University fields purely because of over saturation of the job market.

Companies can have the pick of people and pay them less wages based on the fact that they can replace the person with another from the thousands waiting for employment.

I can remember in the UK that quite a number of University graduates couldn’t actually find employment in the field they chose. Instead, they ended up in low paid positions in a completely unrelated field such as fast food or retail positions.

If you take a good look at what is happening in the US and here in Canada, you can see the same trend. Many University students are completing their degree and failing to find employment after school.

This ends up leaving them with a mountain of debt to deal with through the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP) and any other ways they managed to secure money to go to school.

This only means that many students are struggling to pay back OSAP fast although it’s not impossible to do.

In the last few years the skilled trades through the form of apprenticeships has gained some interest, mainly due to the fact that there isn’t enough people with in demand skilled trades.

The government is motivating students to get involved with a career in the trades especially through TV advertisements.

All apprentices gain their experience through on the job training and going through trade school.


Women in trades


There are increasing numbers of women entering the trades and it’s not just the stereotypical jobs like Hairstylist or Cook that are being filled.

Mechanical based trades such as Heavy Equipment Technician and Millwright which have been dominated in the past by men have started to change.

Highly skilled women are attaining good positions within the Red Seal Trades which should make the some of the men sit up pay attention.

A Red Seal Trade essentially means you can take your trade inter-provincial moving province to province so it’s not just Ontario based.

I expect the women don’t get any special treatment and have to deal with all the same physically demanding issues that some trades entail.

I know of one woman, younger than myself who is an Automotive Technician or Car Mechanic to those of us not up to date with the trade names.

She has completed her trade school, written her licence exam and is now a licensed mechanic. It’s not only men that like to get dirty and sweaty it seems.

It’s a rewarding career for both men and women.


Trade school


You may be asking what is a trade school? They are colleges that teach the theory and practical skills necessary for a variety of skilled trades such as Mechanics, Electricians, Plumbers, Gas Technicians and so on.

There are a number of trades colleges in Ontario with some being more specialized on one campus than the other. Depending on your choice of skilled trade could determine where you have to study.

High classroom demand can also dictate your travel plans when attending school.

For some reason the trades had fallen out of favour with the youth of yesterday, probably because it had attracted a supposedly less educated bunch of individuals.

Most trades are technical based and involve an extensive amount of training which tends to be an ongoing process throughout any trades-persons career.

Some of the skills involved require maths and science, so it’s not quite as low on the academic scale as you may think.

There are a lot of trades that pay very well and if you follow the herds to “Fort McMoney” you too can get paid a ridiculous sum of money.

Even so if you don’t plan to travel with their trade and stay close to home will stay make a decent wage. One guy I know went into the trades at a young age and now runs a multi-million dollar trucking shop.

You never know where one part of your trades career will take you because there are many avenues you can explore after you gain experience in a trade such as supervisory roles, teaching or owning your own business.


Career attitudes


The attitudes of the children of today is not surprising because we are grooming them to be ready for a world filled with technology but the funny part is the trades industry is just as saturated with that technology.

A friend of ours says he gave up working in the trades when he was younger due to stupidity and wished he would have stayed in the industry.

He also sees how his daughter a University graduate is struggling to find a job now that she is done school and has loans to pay back.

Talking to his son about entering the trades or even his friends have fallen by the waist as he said the kids of today are not interested in physical work.

They are used to sitting in front of computers and gaming systems and the mere thought of physical labour does not enter their minds.

His son said, no way am I going into a trade. Let’s just hope he doesn’t look back and eat his words like his father but we must give children the opportunity to follow the career path that they want.

It’s their choice after all and what happens after they leave home really is up to them. All you can do as a parent is offer advice and guide a child.


Apprenticeship Incentive Grant


The government also got concerned about the low number of trades people who were entering the workforce to replace the aging population.

While the cost of University goes up and students are taking out increasingly bigger OSAP loans, apprentices are being given money.

As each Level of trade school is complete and a set amount of hours in the work place are attained, the Ontario Government pays the apprentice an interim payment of $1,000.

Once Level 1 and 2 are completed, Level 3 and the writing of your licence will be next but only after completion of hours.

After successfully writing your exam and obtaining your licence or trade certification another $2,000 dollars is yours from the government.

The Ontario Apprenticeship Grants will pay out a grand total of $4,000 for you to go to college.

Additionally, because you are in paid full-time employment when you do go to school you can claim Employment Insurance.

Once you have spent a number of years in your chosen trade and obtained your licence you should have minimal if any debt to pay back.

You should also have a strong career ahead of you and can utilize those skills you have learned and apply them to other aspects of life.

If you’re interested in changing your career and acquiring a skilled trade then the place to go for information would have been the Ontario ministry of trades.

Up until recently the ministry was government-funded and ran the apprenticeship programs and licensing.

This responsibility has now been taken on by the Ontario College of Trades and would be your new source for information.

So, no matter what you choose to do with your life it’s up to you to make the informed decision and that starts with proper research.

Whether you are a young student or returning to school as an adult getting involved with a trade is a great way to get yourself back into the game especially if you are the type of person who is not afraid of manual labour and getting your hands dirty.


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  1. I recently watched an interview with Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” and he was talking about how a lot of these jobs are now unfillable. He also went on to say that as a generation we have steered so many students to 4 year degrees and it has produced a huge deficit of skillable workers.

    • Yes, that’s just it and many of these students have degrees and no where to go with them or they get into jobs that are unrelated to what they went to University for which is where I say, what’s the point if you can’t do what you love.

  2. Christine Weadick says:

    I often read where the construction industry is crying for trades people. A lot of the people working in those trades are older and will be retiring in the next while. A friend of the older boy apprenticed as an electrician and is doing very well. He trained right out of high school. A friend of the younger boy took a co-op option as a brick layer in high school and then apprenticed there after… again he is doing very well. Might be a bit of a dirty job but he is in high demand.
    Our daughter went to college to train as an Early Childhood Educator and is well respected by her peers. I have a nephew and a niece that went to university and both had trouble getting any job in their field, both went back to school but to a college to actually get a job. my nephew is working at a good job now with the trade he took in college. His sister is going back to university to get her Masters. She worked in the food industry through university and college. She is working at a place that works with and helps young people with mental illness and loves it. It works with her degree and the college social worker program she took. She just won an award with a ‘significant’ financial component to it but I haven’t heard the full details from Colie yet.
    Our older boy was training as a mechanic with the DND before he got a medical discharge. I’m not sure if he is mentally ready to go back to that or do something else but the depression will always be there to some degree. I would have no issues with his brother going into the trades, but it will be his call. He is thinking about it….

  3. Several points to consider here Mr.CBB. Don’t believe anything the government tells you. The shortage of tradesmen is actually a shortage of tradesmen that will travel. The government uses this argument to bring in substandard foreign workers in their attempt to bring the wage rates down and break the unions. An apprentice finishing their time should have no debt unless they paid for a third party course/qualification. An apprentice has few expenses other than his work clothes and safety equipment; often supplied by the contractor. The last thirty or more years the government and I dare say a lot of parents, have expected most high school students to go to university for those cushy white collar jobs. Post secondary education is a huge money maker and you only have to look at the teacher situation in Ontario to realize most new teaching graduates will never teach in this province. The province is perfectly happy to take your tuition for four years knowing there will not be a job at the end of it. In Clarisse’s experience, an apprentice accepted into a union shop can be trained as a welder with no course cost. It has been my union experience that it is not unusual to get 1000 applications for 50 positions. A significant number of the applicants are university grads that have little chance of acceptance because their high school classes did not include math and chemistry at the grade 12/13 level. The apprentices accepted into the union are looking at five years of night school as well as continuing education for those that have a gas licence. I taught union night school for 16 years and it was a pleasure to have people in class that wanted to be there and were being paid while learning their craft. I retired at 60 with a full pension after thirty years of service, a rare thing it seems these days. I’ve heard it said, the jobs maybe dirty, but the money’s clean.

  4. One of the University schools here offers a Welding course for only 6 months and the course cost $30K. And they guaranteed when you are finished with the rush course, you will have a good job with a good pay and one of their clients are Canada and New Zealand!

  5. I think the trades are a fantastic choice. I just read an issue of moneysense where the young girl profiled was working a dead end job in retail sales in a mall where she hated. She applied to do some sort of apprenticeship for welding and went from making like 30k/year for 100+k/year and loves her job!

  6. “…kids of today are not interested in physical work.” I think there is some truth to this. As a high school teacher, I see glimpses of this coming out in comments made by my students.

    • We never had the computers in school like the kids did today or if we did it was a glimpse of them and it was rare to have them at home. We were outside playing after school not sitting indoors with video games. Different generation of children I believe.

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