In Canada, we often joke that there are two seasons … “winter” and “construction.”  This turn of phrase provides a glimpse at two Canadian realities – a long, cold winter in many parts of the country and the fact there is considerable work when it comes to building, maintaining and repairing the infrastructure around us.  The inference, however, that construction season ends with the first snowfall is outdated, with many construction projects operating at full-speed throughout winter.

This outdated perception is one reason young people shy away from a career in the construction trades, worried that work will be seasonal and temporary.  Yet, the reality is that thousands of Canadian workers make a satisfying and well-paid career in the construction sector.  At the end of each day, they survey the work they’ve done with a sense of accomplishment.  It is not uncommon to see tradespeople showing family and friends the product of their labour, proud to have been part of the teams building houses, hospitals and manufacturing plants.  Their skills and ability are on display for everyone to see.

Apprenticeships

It all starts with an apprenticeship, where young people learn hands-on and workplace-specific skills on-the-job.  Roughly 80 percent of their time is spent working with a certified journeyperson who mentors and teaches them the skills of the trade.  This is no unpaid internship – apprentices are paid an increasing percentage of a journeyperson’s wage as they progress.  They return to school for eight to 12 weeks each year, learning the theory and practising new skills at a college or union training centre.  Like many university degrees, most apprenticeships last four years.  The difference is that very few apprentices finish their training with student debt and all of them have practical experience to serve as a foundation for their career.

"It all starts with an apprenticeship, where young people learn hands-on and workplace-specific skills on-the-job.  Roughly 80 percent of their time is spent working with a certified journeyperson who mentors and teaches them the skills of the trade."

Many certified skilled tradespeople go on to manage projects, supervise workers, mentor apprentices, instruct college programs and/or start their own businesses.  The skills they develop on construction projects last a lifetime, with opportunities that extend well beyond Canada’s borders.  Our skilled tradespeople are in-demand around the world.

Plenty of career paths to choose from

When looking at post-secondary options, it is worth considering what you want to get out of “a day at the office.”  For many tradespeople, an office environmental would be stifling … they prefer to be actively engaged in their day-to-day work, thinking through challenges and solving problems with tangible results.  With more than 300 occupations to choose from, the trades also offer a tremendous variety of opportunity.  Crane operator, ironworker, electrician, plumber, welder, carpenter, sheet metal worker, bricklayer … the possibilities are endless.  What they have in common is a knack for applying math to complex problems, knowledge of scientific principles and an ability to shape the medium they are employing.  I encourage young people to take the most advanced math and science they can endure, paired with practical, hands-on opportunities to put those principles into action.  Then, find an employer willing to teach you their trade and dive in, hands-first.