Ontario is rebounding from the global recession faster than many other regions, but the unemployment rates for new university graduates has continued to rise, with more and more grads ending up in minimum wage jobs at best. In today’s economy, careers in the trades are looking more promising than ever before for Ontario’s skilled youth.

“There is high youth unemployment in Canada right now and young people are struggling to find employment,” says Sean Strickland, CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat. “It’s important for young people to consider a career in the trades. Work projections are very good right now.” And the rationale goes well beyond just the promise of steady work.

“The total package of what’s involved in the trades is a lot more than just picking up the tools.”

A career in the trades can be far more than just a job

Jobs in the trades offer stability, high wages, and opportunities for advancement. “Obviously the wages, pensions, and benefits are a big deal,” says Terry Webb, President of the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC). “And once you get into the trades, if you are a bright young person, there’s always a chance for more advancement. You can go into business, you can go into supervisory positions.”

It is important to look at work in the trades as a career path rather than simply a job. Building a successful career in the trades, as with most fields, is a matter of constant learning and self-improvement. There are always additional certifications to pursue which can improve both job prospects and advancement opportunities.

“It has always been a thought-based career path. It’s lifelong learning to keep up with the technology. Our members go to night school and take continuing education to stay ahead of their craft,” says James Hogarth, Business Manager at the OPTC. “A lot of people in the trades say you actually learn more in the second five years than you do in the first.”

And this path is one that advantages those with a love of learning, especially as the trades continue to grow ever more technical.

“The total package of what’s involved in the trades is a lot more than just picking up the tools,” says Webb. “They’re a lot more technical these days. There is a lot of training and research involved.” Increasingly, tradespeople are doing work that in the past may have fallen to engineers, including a large volume of work on computers.

Work sites are becoming safer and more welcoming

Simultaneously, job sites are growing ever more integrated, with better representation than ever before of women and visible minorities, though the major unions are all still working to further increase the number of people from these traditionally underrepresented groups entering the field.

Work sites are also growing safer. “Whereas in the past people talked about being on time and on budget,” says Hogarth, “Now it is about being safe, on time, and on budget, with safety being number one.”

Perhaps the biggest disservice being done to young people in Ontario is the continued trumpeting by parents and guidance counselors alike of the long outdated notion that the trades are for those who do not have the option of attending university. For a bright and adventurous student, a career in the trades offers a challenging and rewarding alternative that brings with it a bright future and, perhaps most importantly, a promise of stable long-term employment.