Original Published on Jul 19, 2022 at 10:30

By Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Female students in Grey and Bruce counties are leading the province in exploring skilled trades after high school.

At its committee of the whole meeting on July 14, Grey County council received an update from Ontario Youth Apprenticeship (OYAP) Coordinator Dave Barrett about the progress OYAP is making encouraging students to consider skilled trades as a career following high school.

Barrett works with students from both the Bluewater District School Board and the Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board and he said the OYAP program is seeing amazing results.

Barrett said the number of female students exploring skilled trades locally is “phenomenal.”

“We have more young women exploring skilled trades than the rest of the province by a significant margin,” he said.

Barrett’s numbers showed that female students going into skilled trades locally have outpaced the provincial averages for the past five years. He gave credit to Georgian College in Owen Sound for doing an excellent job helping raise the profile of apprenticeship programs.

“Georgian College has really stepped up. That campus is really singing with apprentices,” he said.

Barrett explained that he educates students about the opportunities and earning potential of exploring jobs in skilled trades. He said he never asks students what they want to do when they grow up, but rather: “What do you want to try next?”

“We talk about that earning potential. The earning potential for students here is phenomenal. The income level is there,” he said.

He also emphasizes to students that an apprenticeship in the skilled trades is another form of continuing their education after high school.

“An apprenticeship is post-secondary education. It’s just a different way of doing it,” he said. “It is the oldest form of education there is.”

Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen said he has seen firsthand the value of the skilled trades, with two of his children going that route. He noted that the opportunities are boundless.

“They help each other out building a home and designing things. They get that networking, it’s a network itself,” said McQueen.

The Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever said he has family members who have pursued the skilled trades path as well.

“An apprenticeship is the way to go,” said Soever. “These skills are in very high demand here. It does give you a great start in life.”

County CAO Kim Wingrove asked Barrett if OYAP has seen changes from the employer end of the spectrum. Wingrove noted that not that many years ago some job sites would have “a reputation of being very tough places. Is there a change there?” Wingrove asked.

Barrett said there has been a massive shift in attitudes in recent years.

“Job sites are changing. They’re recognizing that if they don’t change, they won’t get people,” he said.

Chatsworth Mayor Scott MacKey pointed out that Barrett’s overall numbers showed that the percentage of Grey and Bruce grades 11/12 students enrolled in OYAP was far exceeding the provincial average. The local percentage has been exceeding 15 per cent for a number of years, while the provincial average has remained at 4-5 per cent.

“What is happening Grey and Bruce that is different in the rest of the province?” MacKey asked.

Barrett said locally there has been tremendous cooperation from local industry on apprenticeships. He also said his sole focus is the program and he credited local school guidance counsellors for their knowledge and support of the program.

“The biggest difference is the focus on it. I only do OYAP. I’ve been able to get right into the schools,” he said.

Barrett also reminded county councillors that he also assists mature students and people of all ages interested in apprenticeships. He said in 2017, he had a 63-year-old apprentice in the program.

“I don’t care if they’re in high school, or 63 years old, I will help them,” he said.

This item reprinted with permission from CollingwoodToday.ca, Collingwood, Ontario