Young Canadians finishing high school have grown up living more than half their lives in Stephen Harper’s Canada. For these youth, the job market is perhaps the most important issue, and it’s time to look at what the future of that market, particularly as it relates to the trades, is going to look like after the next election.

The labour report card of the Conservative regime leaves a lot to be desired. “The current government has championed initiatives like Bill C-377, which attacks trade unions,” says Rick Smith, Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute. “They’ve championed Bill C-51, which attacks the rights of Canadians. Those bills need to be repealed by any new government.”

“We need our government to create a framework for investment that allows prosperity in our country to be more broadly shared.”

Whichever party takes Parliament Hill this year, the message from organized labour is the same: get out of the way. “We’re not looking for any party to come and do us any favours,” says John Telford, Director of Canadian Affairs at the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA). “We’re just looking for a level playing field.”

A level playing field for unions in Canada benefits even those Canadians who don’t end up in a unionized job. “Safety and training for non-union workers are only at the level they are at today because unions and the organized sectors pushed that agenda,” says Telford. “Unions have raised the standard of living for everyone.”

Better jobs for young Canadians

“The opportunities that are coming up in the trades are incredible. It’s an exciting time to be a tradesperson in this country,” says Telford. And these opportunities are becoming ever more appealing to Canadian youth. “We’ve got apprentices in Ontario and Alberta that have never seen a day of unemployment,” says Larry Slaney, Director of Canadian Training and National Director of the National Association of Union Schools and Colleges. “Some of them are making 150,000 dollars a year.”

It’s hard to ignore the appeal of steady work and good pay. An increasing number of bright and adventurous young Canadians are going to be looking at the traditional encouragement to attend university with a lot more skepticism. In fact, many of those who have gone to university and been successful there are choosing the trades anyway.

“What’s happening at our locals now is that we are getting young people with three or four years of school, sometimes already with university degrees, and then they are going into the trades,” says Slaney. “They find that they’ve spent a fortune and they can’t get a job. They’ve been training for a job that was never there in the first place.”

A five year apprenticeship is every bit as much of an education as is a four year university degree. It is, however, an education that pays you rather than putting you in debt. And a good pre-apprenticeship college program confers many benefits as well. It’s simply a matter of training for the jobs that exist, rather than those that don’t.

Protecting our prosperity

As bright as the prospects are looking today for Canadian tradespeople, the situation will always be precarious as long as the government continues to erode the rights of organized labour. The economic future of the next generation of Canadians depends on sending a strong message to parliament that the creation and protection of real jobs is of central importance.

“We need our government to create a framework for investment that allows prosperity in our country to be more broadly shared,” says Smith. “When you boil it down, what we want is a new government that will lead to the creation of a fairer country, a more broadly prosperous country, and a more democratic country.”

What that means in terms of how to cast your vote in this year’s election is something that each young voter will need to determine for themselves. But every Canadian must stand up this year and make their voice heard in favour of a prosperous future with meaningful work for all.