Go Trades connects at-risk youth with jobs

Program helps students who might not graduate from high school

Even though there’s a shortage of tradespeople in Ontario, many students can’t get jobs in the trades because they don’t have the experience. Some students are also at risk of not graduating high school at all when they reach the end of Grade 12 and are a few credits short.

Nearly six years ago, Kim Lutes-McKay saw these problems when she was on the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program committee.

“There was a recognition that there was a gap for a lot of young people with regards to their introduction to the trades,” said Lutes-McKay, who is manager of community employment resource services at Oshawa, Ont.-based Durham College’s Job Connect.

“There were a lot of students who weren’t achieving academically and (the schools) were losing them. They were going from school to work without a high school diploma.”

The Durham Catholic School Board also recognized this problem and partnered with Job Connect three years ago to provide Go Trades, a five-week summer program, to students in Durham Region, located just east of Toronto.

Any student in Durham who is at risk of not graduating Grade 12 and who has an interest in a trade, such as carpentry, landscaping, early childhood education, esthetics or general contracting, is welcome to apply.

The program includes a two-day in-class component, run out of Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School in Oshawa, and five weeks of on-the-job experience.

“We developed this program in response to a perceived need. The need being for certified tradespeople, as well as the need for the students wanting to graduate high school and only needing one or two credits,” said Paul Fraser, one of the two teachers who runs the program.

“Being able to offer this program allows them to finish high school during the summer and still graduate with their friends.”

This summer was the first time Occo Van Tijn, owner of Metals Plus in Whitby, Ont., took part in the program and he would recommend other employers do the same.

The owner of the metal service centre was so impressed he would have gladly hired Paul, the Go Trades participant, if the company had had an opening.

“Paul was excellent. He was a hard worker, very conscientious, made very few mistakes, got on well with everybody else and seemed to learn quite fast. And above all, he enjoyed it,” said Van Tijn. “He’s going to come and help us when we do our inventory at the end of the summer.”

Since the school board and Job Connect partnered three years ago, with an average of 18 students each summer, there has been about an 85-per-cent success rate with employers hiring participants or taking them on as apprentices after they complete the placement, said Fraser.

The five-week program is like an extended interview, said Lutes-McKay.

“The employer gets a sense of how productive this individual is,” she said.

Even if the participants don’t get hired on after their placements, Job Connect will help them in their job hunt, which is made easier because they now have job experience, a Grade 12 diploma and a letter of reference from an employer, added Debbie Ireland, an employment advisor with Job Connect and Go Trades.

Since most employers in the trades want second- or third-level apprentices, having that experience can make a big difference in getting a job.

“It’s another way of addressing some of the barriers that young people face when they’re trying to find an apprenticeship opportunity,” said Lutes-McKay.

What makes this program different from a typical high school co-op is that after the first two weeks on the job, students are paid minimum wage for their work. The funding comes from Job Connect so employers don’t have to make a financial commitment.

With that paycheque comes an increased expectation of productivity, said Ireland.

“It ups the ante a little bit and they get a real taste of what working in that occupation is like. They’re not expected to just put in hours and observe. They’re expected to work,” she said.

For students who know earlier in their high school careers that they want to pursue a career in the trades, nearly every province offers a program that allows high school students to earn apprenticeship hours in their trade of choice while completing high school.

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