Canada’s residential construction industry is facing an acute shortage of skilled trades in the next decade.

With more than 133,800 workers in the residential construction sector across Canada expected to retire by 2033, or roughly 22% of the workforce, the industry will need new recruits.

Due to anticipated growth in the industry, 158,400 workers will need to be brought on board between 2024 and 2033, according to a residential scenario outlook released recently BuildForce Canada.

To ensure we have enough skilled trades workers to build the millions of homes that will be needed in future, we must tap into new pools of talent – particularly students in secondary schools.

We need to let young people know about the multitude of good-paying jobs in the construction industry, encourage them to take up training on the tools, and give them hands-on experience.

For many young people, especially those that don’t see themselves in college or university, it is important they know they’ll be able to earn while they learn, pick up valuable skills that last a lifetime, and get into a satisfying job that offers unlimited career-advancement opportunities.

That message is more important now as the aging workforce and increasing retirements will pose a significant challenge for Canada’s residential construction industry. Recruitment will be an ongoing challenge. However, we may finally be seeing some of the change that’s needed.

A new fast-track plan announced by the provincial government in Ontario will permit high school students who want to pursue a career in the trades to spend up to 80% of their time on training and 20% on academics. The new program is scheduled to start this fall.

The program was announced recently by Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Labour Minister David Piccini. It will make it easier for teens to transition into the trades amid the shortage.

The Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training program will allow students in Grades 11 and 12 to participate in apprenticeship learning through co-operative education credits while completing high school.

Between eight and 11 credits can be earned from the trades training through co-op placements. Students will still have to earn mandatory math and English credits in Grade 11, and English in Grade 12.

The program runs two to five years and those who finish their apprenticeships will be able to apply to graduate high school as mature students.

The new stream is included in the Working for Workers Act, 2024, that was introduced recently by the government. Students will get a seal of distinction if they enrol in the stream. It will put them in the driver’s seat and encourage more kids to graduate who might otherwise not do so.

The whole purpose, of course, is to open the doors to apprenticeship to more young people and encourage them to pursue a career in the trades.

It’s a more flexible program than students have had in the past and provides them with many more choices.

The idea hasn’t been embraced by everyone. Some critics are worried that teens will miss out on fundamental learning in English and math. Unifor, meanwhile, has expressed concerns the initiative could water down apprenticeship requirements and lead to lower completion rates.

However, the initiative will help boost the number of youth who take up training in the trades and likely end up encouraging more students to graduate as many drop out to pursue a career in the trades.

The program has been in the works for some time and has received support from both the Ontario Public School Board’s Association and Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

This initiative will be a game-changer, as it allows students to pursue training in the trades while earning academic credits to graduate high school. University isn’t the only path to success in life.

We are in a dire crisis when it comes to housing and simply are not building enough to keep up with demand. In Ontario, we are nowhere near the pace needed to get to the target of building 1.5M homes by 2031. To reach that figure, we will need many more skilled trades.

Presently, only 1% of high school graduates are registered apprentices. We can, and must, do better.

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