I spent last weekend on the West Coast of the country in (quite frankly) idyllic Vancouver. My God, it was beautiful — the mountains, the trees, and especially the weather, which was reminiscent of that one nice day we always get in August, only every day.
But I wasn’t in Vancouver to soak up the sun or marvel at my surroundings. I was there for the Skills Canada National Competition, a type of massive skilled trades and technologies expo where the best of the best from every province compete in contest areas from cooking, to carpentry, to bricklaying, to airplane mechanics.
This thing was huge. We’re talking every square foot of BC Place, home of the BC Lions CFL team, including the concourse encircling the field, being allocated to skilled trades competitions.
The sheer scope of the event is pretty incredible, not in the least because of the variety of skilled trades vocations being hosted under the one roof.
Just being there was an eye-opening experience.
You don’t realize the diversity in skilled trades or the immense talent needed to be a professional tradesperson until you’re exposed to them, and before I became involved with Skills Canada, I wasn’t.
Having two teachers for parents and not receiving much exposure to anything outside tech ed and art classes in high school, how could I have been?
The funny thing is, I don’t think many students are ever formally exposed to the trades at all, much less given a true impression of how incredibly highly skilled tradespeople have to be nowadays.
Instead, many students have a flawed impression of the true nature of skilled trades and technologies.
In high school, students are pretty much uniquely exposed to studies geared towards becoming members of the next generation of classical university-trained fields — subjects necessary to becoming tomorrow’s doctors, teachers, engineers and lawyers. Sure, fashion and nutrition classes are offered at school, but it’s not as if we treat them with the same worth as our English and math courses. There’s no public exam in Textiles 3101, after all.
Schools, at least in this province, have a very narrow view of intelligence. Those who succeed in the system are lucky enough to fit that definition. But there are so many ways to define intelligence. We are all skilled at different things, be it solving a chemistry problem or baking a cake. We each have a unique skill set — an intelligence geared to what we are good at — but our education system is laid out in a way that suggests academic intelligence is the most valuable and the most important.
This devalues people more suited for skilled trades professions and creates a stigma that people who are going into the trades are less smart than those going to university. As a result of this bias, people are turned away from the trades and pushed towards a university education perhaps not suited to who they are and what they would enjoy doing.
Parents also play into the equation. Typically, parents, wanting the best for their kids, will try to influence the decisions of their children. Their feelings and recommendations are more often than not determined based on their own backgrounds and work experiences. If a student’s parents come from a university-trained background and have experienced success and job security, or even (or perhaps especially) if they didn’t achieve a university education and encountered difficulties as result, it’s more or less likely that they’ll try to influence their children towards seeking a career requiring a university degree, regardless of their child’s aspirations.
In doing so, they create another bias for students that makes the trades out to be less viable career choices.
The result: often when students reach that existential crisis at Grade 12, they make a career choice based on all the wrong reasons.
Patrick Butler plans to begin the journalism program at Carleton University in Ontario in the fall. He lives in Conception Bay South, and can be reached by email at email@example.com.