Skilled trade workers: Degrees and the Economy –  By Yvonne Sam

Skilled trade workers: Degrees and the Economy

  By Yvonne Sam

While millions of students rack up startlinguniversity debts and gain no skills, millions of high-paying trade jobs sit empty.

I know for a fact that as I begin to indite that I may arouse the anger or the awe of some who sincerely think and feel that I should know better. There are many people on the left side of the spectrum who will tend to dismiss my opinion deeming it biased and unfair. From their perspective, it appears that I am endeavoring to belittle their institutions wherein bright young students can receive diplomas in agenda –driven activism and victim-hood. No one seems to think that skilled blue-collar careers are worth looking into. Blue collar jobs are for losers.    

Of course,a degree still gives you a leg up in earning power, but there are lots of fields where a bachelor’s degree is not a necessary requisite. University has been overvalued and overrated at the expense of young people who are entering or contemplating entering skilled trades. Students are funneled into university because it’s the default. Some struggle and eventually drop out, whereas what was needed in the first place was an awareness of the other types of options.

Now that graduation time is approaching a lot of seniors would be trying to answer the question, “Am I going to University?”when perhaps the real question should be, “Do I need to go to University?” In spite of  the  perception that university is the sole path for everybody, when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay and the fact that you do not have to factor in three to four years of tuition, and you are being paid while learning, these other paths surely demand some additional consideration.

Students are daily told that a degree is necessary for success, for larger paychecks throughout life, and above all financial security during retirement.  Graduates are vigorously encouraged to get a bachelor’s degree, in so much that high paid jobs that call for shorter and less expensive training go unfilled.  I wholeheartedly agree with parents, who want success for their children, andthe degree is still one of the surest ways to gain a competitive edge in the job market and earn middle-class wages, but then again it must be borne in mind that university is not for everyone.We get stuck on degrees, and fail to see the shortage there is in tradespeople until we hire a plumber or an electrician and have to write a cheque.

Some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year do not require bachelor’s degrees

Another saddening aspect why some graduates after spending many years and thousands of dollars cannot find jobs that commensurate with their education lies in the fact that they failed in the first place to ascertain if there was a market for that degree.

In the classic 1960’s movie the Graduate, a family friend Mr. Mc Guire offers Benjamin Braddock, the recent graduate, played by Dustin Hoffman, one piece of advice: “plastics”.   My advice for today’s graduate is – Learn a Trade.

Regrettably, there has always been an historic ignominy surrounding vocational education (voc-ed), the result of snobbery towards certain occupations.Now, there are millions of rewarding, high paying trade jobs sitting empty. Yes, there is a deficiency in skilled labour.

Here in Canada, there is a push for the infrastructure of the future to be “smart”—that is built with integrated information and communication technologies and internet of things capabilities (IoT). Such a move to make cities smarter would mean streets could be embedded with sensors that speak to smartphones thereby optimizing commute times and traffic flow. Making cities smarter requires much skilled talent: heavy equipment operators, electricians, and concrete finishers. Furthermore, by 2025, wind could bring to fruition 20 per cent of Canada’s energy needs. This expected growth of wind energy will bring about an increased demand for wind turbine technicians, electricians, and crane operators. Even our traditional energy economy will support job creation in the near future. Oil prices are mending, and with recent approvals for new pipeline projects the demand for skilled trades is undoubtedly going to rise.

The world’s cheapest form of energy is officially solar, and start-ups are quickly emerging to capitalize.  One of the most recent idea of an American-based firm is an entirely solar roof.  The expansion of similar projects to Canada will see the creation of skilled labour demand across the whole value chain — from the production solar cells, to wiring, to installation.

In the face of the barrage of articles about automation and digitalization of work, it is worthwhile bringing to mind the fact that we have not departed from the physical world, at least not for the moment. More importantly, it will most certainly be the trades professions that can capacitate the future of work—both in Canada and around the world.  As you can see there is not always the need for a degree.

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  • wall n  On 02/18/2019 at 11:46 am

    I was at THD when Guyanese were slowly taking over the Senior positions from Expatriates mostly English/British. they were qualified, but, also hands on, very good teachers. I think they were amazed of how good students the natives were.Some of the Guyanese taking the senior positions were qualified, but had no hands on training, initially, they were in a sense useless.
    I went to Germany for Marine Engineering, all the engineers had practical training, but showed total respect to the skilled tradesmen who were responsible for getting the job done.
    In Canada I observed the same respect was given to tradesmen, and this was in manufacturing, no time for failure, this is where down time equals money lost which equals jobs lost.
    Something happened, companies started importing tradesmen, I don’t want to name specific companies, but they in a sense crippled the apprentice programs, no one at the time suggested the “hire one train two” which I think some companies are now starting.
    Sorry about my long winded response, but I feel close to this, and having worked with so many talented tradesmen over the years, I welcome the resurgence.

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