Tradesmen needed

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 22, 2008 Ed Cartoon

Ontario universities have received the highest number of applications since the double cohort in 2003.

The Ontario University Application Centre expected an increase of three or four per cent in applicants, but the actual increase was 4.8 per cent.

The number of applications has steadily increased since OUAC allowed individuals to apply to more than three universities. The participation rate, the proportion of people in the demographic applying to university, has increased. Western’s applications alone are up by 5.6 per cent.

This increase in the participation rate could simply be related to population growth and large high school graduating classes. On the other hand, it appears more high school graduates are choosing university and college over the skilled trades.

Last Monday, Judith Maxwell, the former head of the Economic Council of Canada, wrote a column in the Globe and Mail arguing Canadians devalue skilled trades and that inadequate funding for schools and apprenticeships and promotion by guidance counselors are to blame for the dearth of skilled trades.

The skilled trades remain stigmatized as blue collar or lesser than university or college education. This stigma contributes to the devaluing of the skilled trades as a valid route for high school graduates.

It appears university is the default choice for high school graduates. Most choose the university course stream over the college course stream in high school and few actively pursue a skilled trade.

The college stream is stigmatized in the same way as skilled trades: many view it as a dumbed-down version of the university stream.

Stigma aside, the skilled trades are also not promoted to graduating students in the same way as universities and colleges â€" with glossy brochures, fairs and presentations, and by guidance counselors.

Canadians value education as a form of personal development. Many see the benefit of an education to develop transferable skills â€" critical thinking, reasoning, research, reading, writing and problem solving to name a few â€" that can be applied to a career or skilled trade. Some also discover through the university experience what they love to do outside of their studies.

So even though the university degree might be unnecessary for the job market, it can be an invaluable experience.

There is pressure on high school graduates to choose university; it is a brave student indeed who declares he or she will pursue a skilled trade over university or college.

Although university can be the right choice for many high school students, the skilled trades could be the right fit for others â€" and the trades are desperate for young blood.

The benefits of the skilled trades should be promoted on an equal level as university and college programs; college courses in high school should be specialized to particular trades to better prepare students; and society must remove the stigma attached to the skilled trades.

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