Skilled Trades needed

Skilled trades are, for the most part, in decline. They aren't 'sexy' anymore because you don't end up with a degree when you are done. Of course, like almost every other form of education you are never done. There is always some new skill or technique to learn, and there are always better ways of doing things. How could one learn or discover these without continuing education.

The continuing education need not be in a classroom or workshop setting; it could just as easily be a job site where you find yourself working with people with different training. How learning happens is less important than that it does happen.

So why are skilled trades becoming less prevalent?

Part is the constant search for credentials, which may not prove anything. Another part is the drive to reduce initial cost of non-luxury good at the expense of operating cost. This happens in the building industry where labourers can put up houses quickly, but those same houses are frequently of questionable quality.

Specialized skilled trades are not required for most jobs because designers assume, rightly or wrongly, that such skilled tradespeople no longer exist, or it is easier to justify a cheaper design than it will the cost of the right skilled tradesperson.

My sister recently had this trouble while setting up a store/teaching kitchen in a smaller city. She needed someone who could design and construct venting for the stove hood in an awkward location. She asked the tradespeople working on other parts of the project and they all pointed her to one man who used to do that, but he passed away and, understandably, doesn't do it anymore. When she asked who could do it for her now the response was "he did that," which isn't exactly the most useful response. Eventually, somebody agreed to do it. Presumably because they decided the former practitioner of the service wouldn't be too put off by someone else taking over.

Specialization is needed in the trades just as in other arenas of construction, design, engineering and architecture. How else could we end up with respected experts who can be asked to clarify the most intricate technical or physical problems? Sophisticated designs by engineers/architects/trades, such as the passive house, need knowledgeable and skilled trades people who can construct buildings to precise standards. If we let our trades diminish by not only not encouraging people to enter trades, but in some instances actively discouraging the pursuit of the trades, then our society will be poorer for it.

The letter below written by the President and CEO of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada shows part of the mindset that contributes to the decline in encouraging people to enter the trades.

Wise investment (Letters, The Globe and Mail, April 1, 2011)

Re We Need More Smarts For Universities To Work (March 31): Margaret Wente offers a particularly cynical and misguided view of the value of university education. Her argument that we should have fewer, not more young people getting a university education flies in the face of current labour market research.

Even during the recession, 300,000 new jobs were created for university graduates. This compares to 125,000 jobs lost in the trades from 2008-2010.

The income advantage for a bachelor’s graduate over a registered tradesperson working full time is 40 per cent ($1-million), while the advantage over those with other types of trades certificates and diplomas grows to 75 per cent ($1.4-million).

In the next two decades, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will double while the number entering the work force will grow by only 8 per cent. And the more than six million baby boomers retiring will create greater demand for legal, health and social services.

Investing in universities is one of the wisest investments a government can make.

Paul Davidson, president and CEO, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Ottawa

He seems to forget that even if everybody goes to university eventually somebody is going to need to build something or repair something. Where are they going to turn if we've invested most of our money in universities to churn out class after class of graduates who think they've ascended to a higher level of being because they have a degree? Unless university becomes mandatory, there really is no risk of losing all trades people, but talking about the average university graduate and the average tradesperson's income is disingenuous. I suspect, though do not have access to the data, that the median tradesperson makes more than or equal to the median university graduate. I know of too many university graduates who are making less than they would if they were working in the trades.

Our society requires skilled practitioners in all areas of life. Each step in the chain from need to design to construction to operation requires skilled and knowledgeable workers otherwise the exacting efforts of the other links might be wasted or unnecessary. We need as a society to encourage young people to enter the trades because their services will be needed and those entering the trades need to learn older skilled practitioners while they are still around to pass on their knowledge.