Skilled trades need to be filled: officials

Like the Maytag man in the old TV commercial, Dave McFadden sits beside the phone hoping it will ring.

As a human resources manager, McFadden waits for local high schools to call for a co-op placement in one of the shops at Barrie Welding and Machine on Anne Street.

“I got one phone call this year, I used to get 12 to 15 calls,” he lamented inside Georgian College’s skilled trades building, Wednesday.

McFadden was one of several local business people on-site to hear the trade show announcement by Mayor Jeff Lehman and Barrie MPP Rod Jackson.

While plans are still in the works to determine which local arena will host the event, both Lehman and Jackson hammered home their message, time and time again.

“When was the last time in Barrie, you heard we can’t find people for the jobs we have,” Lehman said. “We honestly believe that people don’t know they can apprentice or go to school for two years, and walk out and get a job for $50-to-$60,000.”

“That companies are so desperately looking for tradespeople right now, they’re helping people out,” Lehman said.

An apprenticeship takes between two to five years to complete and combines 85% on-the-job-training with 15% technical classroom training.

Lehman said the latest figures indicate there were 400 jobs available in skilled trades in late October that have yet to be filled.

Jackson agrees that it might be as simple as telling high school students early enough while they’re still in school.

“There are so many well-paying, well-respected jobs in our community, but the kids don’t know, the parents don’t know and the teachers don’t know where they are and that the jobs exist,” Jackson said.

Collaborating with Lehman, Georgian College, and the Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce, Jackson announced the Train in Trades initiative that works as both a public awareness campaign and to announce a skilled trades and job expo in April 2013.

In the loud and busy machine shop at Georgian, first year student Cassidy Coghlin, 19, said he’s only been at school for two months, yet he’s already been offered a job and an apprenticeship.

“I want to stay here and get my diploma, maybe go on to (study) engineering, but yeah, there’s tons of work if you want it,” Coghlin said.

In fact, the Apprenticeship Forum/Skills Canada estimates 88% of Canadian apprentices who completed their program were still employed one year later, earning an average of $50,000 per year to start, $10,000 more than the average Canadian wage of $40,000. The national construction labour force is expected to rise by 100,000 workers between now and 2020. The industry will need to replace 219,000 workers who will retire in the next decade.

Across town at Barrie Welding, they’ve recently added a three-floor expansion to the Anne Street location.

Started in 1945 as little more than a blacksmith shop, the workers bought the business from a former owner in 1974 and have grown and expanded beyond their original 30 employees.

“We’ve got more than 200 employees now,” said Adam Smith, of Barrie Welding. He said they’ve been steadily seeking employees for several positions for a few years they haven’t been able to fill, and are looking for ways to introduce the benefits of skilled trades careers to high school students.

Smith said they’re looking for welders, CNC operators, general machinists, millwrights, electricians, control programmers and truck and coach mechanics.

“At the end of the day, you haven’t spent the day pushing paper around. You’ve helped create or build things and that brings a lot of satisfaction,” Smith said.

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner
November 21, 2012