Fulfiling Our Trades... needs

This is Wrex... his second name in his youth was "Alot". He is owned by our friends and neighbors
here in the Oyster Pond, Ron and Bev Smith. This is such a Nova Scotia scene, and since it is on our harbour, I want to share it. Wrex has had to listen to Ron educating me on the opportunities
associated with education... he was a teacher for most of his life and has instilled in me
an appreciation for how we need to look at education in different ways.

Bye-the-way, I am having a particularly hard time getting the font to be consistent with the post below... will fix it on the next posting, I hope

Here we are on the first day of 2008 with an opportunity to look strategically at the new year. This could be a personal look, like I wrote about in the previous blog posting about changing habits... or it could be a look at something like the way we are planning for the province of Nova Scotia's future. After being home for three years, during which I have had lots of time to listen, read, and generally observe life here, I believe it is time to become very strategic in our approach to the future of our home province.
The underlying strength of the province since it was established, has been its people. Ever since Dalhousie University was founded in 1818 and Joseph Howe
helped forge responsible government for Nova Scotia in 1848, education has been at the core of developing a well trained work-force for the future. It is our obligation, and through us, our 'responsible' government's obligation to be strategic in devising the most appropriate education process possible. The type of education needed has changed over the years to accommodate the future needs of our society. Education forms one of the largest budget commitments of our government probably because without well educated people no society will likely be successful. But is it being well spent?

Perhaps not... education in Nova Scotia seems to me to have fallen out of step with the needs of the population. Our eleven universities continue to spew thousands of degreed young people into the streets to find their way... some with useful credentials... all to many with useless 'tools', and piles of debt. Unfortunately, to remain viable, the university entities must grow. You can hear their pitches on TV, YouTube, the print press and in the high schools from the Guidance Counselors... as they look in Nova Scotia, Canada and around the world for students to keep their entity growing. All of this activity could be lulling us into the continued belief that a university education is the best way for a young Nova Scotian to be successful. So what's my point...

My point is that growing universities might not be the best strategy for the province. My point is that perhaps we are missing a very important strategic issue facing Nova Scotia... the lack of trained trades people.
"The Conference Board of Canada (*1) predicts that in the next two decades, 40% of the new jobs will be in the skilled trades and technologies". At the same time as our universities are trying to grow, often by lowering its standards, our needs are actually growing for skilled trades people. Yet we are still investing in university growth, while not strategically educating and preparing our young people in the direction of the most favorable opportunities for careers. As a result, the construction industry can not fulfill its needs for workers; the housing industry has limited flexibility because it has difficulty finding skilled trades people; and getting quality electrical, plumbing and carpentry renovation or services is getting very difficult and expensive. In effect, our aging population is reflected in our tradespeople, and they are retiring faster than we are replacing them... it is a serious strategic problem, if the province wants to grow in the future.

In Nova Scotia, a student leaving Grade 12 today can not get into the Nova Scotia Community Colleges (NSCC) for the construction trades in his/her first year after high school graduation... the various campuses do not have the capacity. As a result, many students are opting for university, entering the 'debt' spiral and not moving forward on the employability charts. In fairness, the NSCC is currently building additional capacity for the trades, but are our high schools, guidance counselors and parents moving in that direction, as well? We need to start passing to students the idea that it is great for them to be aiming toward a career in the trades. This needs to become as much a part of the lexicon of our teachers and counselors as a university education was (and still should be for those students who have the high marks in science, math and languages) in the 70's through 90's. It is clearly time to make a strategic break with the past.

"According to a recent Statistics Canada report, growing construction employment has been a major contributor to the rise in total enrollment in apprenticeship training programs between 1997 and 2005. Over this period, enrollment in construction-related training programs almost doubled going from 61,160 in 1997 to 118,140 in 2005. Building and construction trades and electrical, electronics and related trades account for 40% of the total enrollment in apprenticeships" (*2). This confirms the need for a strategy to move on training capacity in Nova Scotia; the government and management of NSCC is doing this. But have we gotten through to the high school teachers, guidance counselors and parents? The continuation of the StatsCan report would indicate that we have not... "from a regional perspective, from 1997 to 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, the enrollment increases in construction-related training programs occurred as follows: Quebec ( 134%); Newfoundland ( 128%); Alberta ( 107%); Manitoba ( 80%); Prince Edward Island ( 78%); British Columbia ( 75%); Ontario ( 59%); Nova Scotia ( 59%); Saskatchewan ( 52%); and New Brunswick ( 17%). For the absolute numbers, see the graph below." (*2) This indicates that we in Nova Scotia have been slower to recognize and act toward getting our students into the trades. We are progressively letting the students down.

As I mentioned previously, NSCC is building additional capacity, however it will not come on line for two years. Recently a program was initiated at NSCC that allows Grade 11 students to apply for acceptance in the first year out of Grade 12... in other words, to get a jump on getting into the trade school of choice, upon high school graduation. It is a great new program. However, without the leaders of the high schools helping in the process of planning, it won't happen. Not starting this as a program has its negative potential consequences.

A high percentage of students in NSCC for the trades are those who have returned for training after forays into the workforce without having adequate university education to engender employment, or after trying to have a go at employment with no post secondary training. I have talked to several of these students, and they indicate that they were ill-advised to go the route that they had taken out of high school. Often they are loaded with debt, have started families and are struggling by the time they get back into the education process. We should consider their fate, as we promote the university education. We should be considering expanding trades training in high school for students showing aptitude and interest after Grade 9 testing.

While I believe that there are many problems in the education system in Nova Scotia, that need help, I have started with a positive opportunity for our students. I hope that readers of this blog will pass on the information and perhaps enter into the discussion on education. I don't believe that one blog will have any influence on this issue that has at least a couple of strategic heads... a lack of trained trades people for the future; students educated, but not prepared for the working world by universities trying to stay as viable entities. If you have comments on this or other blog postings, please don't hesitate to post them below. I will continue to try to work on this subject and hopefully we will move in the direction our fore-fathers who were educators were trying to achieve... a well trained workforce.

(*1) From http://www.nscc.ca/Learning_Programs/Schools/trades.asp

(*2) From http://www.joconl.com/article/id25512 ... Alex Carrick, Chief Economist, CanaData I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, please remember that:



Anonymous said…

Great blog. I agree that a paradigm needs to be made in order for our province to move ahead. I would be interested in learning where our students go after graduating from trades school. Are they staying here or heading out west? We should also consider how we do a better job creating an environment to keep our human resources, currently our greatest export.

Keep blogging. It's great insight.
Peter Hickey

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