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Sault College, employers say training, jobs available in skilled trades

Skilled workers retiring; educators say it’s important to remove stigma attached to trades

The effort to attract local people into the skilled trades continues.

Sault College hosted representatives from several major local employers and guided them through the school’s skilled trades labs on May 4.

Representatives from Algoma Steel, Tenaris Algoma Tubes, Sault Foundry, PUC Services, China Steel, Rector Machine Works, Arauco and others were in attendance and agreed with Sault College officials that there is a shortage of skilled trades workers and a need to inform young people — or those choosing a second career — that skilled trades are a worthwhile option. 

Michael Mannarino, Algoma Steel's senior human resources representative, said the steel mill is in need of fresh skilled trades professionals due to a number of retirements expected over the next five years.

Both Mannarino and Britta Allen, Tenaris industrial relations and training senior manager, said young people need to know that cleaner technology and robotics have shifted their mills away from the type of gritty work environment their grandfathers knew.

Andrew Sarlo, S.&T. Group's president and owner, said children as young as those in Grades 7 and 8 should know now of the opportunities in skilled trades.

“Trades are a viable vocation for the future,” Sarlo said.

Sarlo pointed out that many new skilled trades workers are starting work in their late 20s, leading to a shortage in such workers as older ones retire.

“They’re not starting young enough... we need to move faster.”

Larry Girardi, deputy CAO in the city's public works and engineering services, said the city needs eight to 10 professionally trained skilled trades workers.

Tanya Running, Sault College's manager of domestic recruitment strategic enrolment, urged employers to spread the message throughout the community that there is quality instruction available in skilled trades from experienced instructors at Sault College.

“It’s a challenge getting the word out that skilled trades are a career option worth thinking about,” said David Orazietti, Sault College's dean of aviation, trades and technology, natural environment and business.

“I think it is so fundamentally important to communicate the message to young people and their parents in our community that there are great paying skilled trades jobs available in Sault Ste. Marie and Sault College is a great pathway to get there,” Orazietti told SooToday.

There are reasons behind the shortage of skilled trades workers, educators say.

“Some of it is the expectation that a young person or their parents may expect them to go to university. It’s interesting that the number of individuals who go to university and then come to college continues to rise. Somewhere around 15 per cent of all university graduates now come to college to get specific training in a certain area to enhance their employment,” Orazietti said.

Some students who have graduated from skilled trades programs through a college then go to a university program, such as that at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University, to pursue an engineering degree.

“There is the historic stigma of trades,” Orazietti said.

“Some individuals believe that these are difficult, dirty jobs that are low-paying, and that is absolutely not the case. These are high-paying jobs, many of them in very clean shop environments. They're not that far off from some office environments in terms of the way they’re laid out, with some of the latest state-of-the-art technology in our robotics lab and our electrical labs, so I think part of it is breaking down the barriers of the mindset that is somewhat historic about how people do the skilled trades.

“I think it’s starting to change. It’s been changing over the last decade or more and it will continue to change, I believe, as people become more aware and see the opportunity that these are real jobs that pay very well with good benefit packages, with pensions in many cases, that you can easily support a family and have a very good quality of life. There are jobs in our community so if you want to stay in Sault Ste. Marie where we’ve got a great quality of life, the trades are a great employment opportunity,” Orazietti said.

There are approximately 300 students in the college’s skilled trades programs for post-secondary students and approximately 500 apprentices going through the college on an annual basis, Orazietti said.

There is still room for more.

“We can certainly accommodate more than a thousand. There are spots available and it is not too late to apply,” Orazietti said.

“I would say the word is getting out. We’ve been working diligently and people are starting to listen,” said Steve Burmaster, who coordinates the Co-op/Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program Pathways program for the Algoma District School Board.

"Parents are great influencers. They were an audience that was hard to reach, but we’ve worked at reaching parents and students at all levels, elementary and secondary. This year we have approximately 180 students on co-op placements related to the skilled trades and we’re on target to sign 50 of those to apprenticeships right in high school so they’re going to graduate high school already a registered apprentice, already connected with employers, earning a paycheque… we’re working through guidance counsellors to get the message out,” Burmaster said.

Both students from the post-secondary stream and in apprenticeship programs will receive training at Sault College before entering the workforce. 

“The gold collar careers are the skilled trades where the people are making phenomenal amounts of money. That stigma is still there a little bit but it’s changing because people can see they can make $150,000 doing a job and the technology is phenomenal,” Burmaster said.

— SooToday