On the heels of high school graduation ceremonies across Ontario, comes that inevitable, universal question that all parents put to their kids: “What do you want to be?”
In a world where technology is advancing at breakneck speeds and half of the jobs of tomorrow don't exist, the bigger question is how can we do a better job of preparing young people for jobs of the future?
The skills gap is complex. While we all want to do more to close it, the key is not doing more of the same old.
Despite best efforts, the skills gap is widening. Ontario is not equipping the future workforce with the right skills to meet 21st century demands. Up to 41 per cent of Ontario employers would hire more people if they had the right skills. Those skills in highest demand are in construction and technology.
The world is changing so fast that conventional approaches to skills and apprenticeship training no longer apply. These approaches were developed long before the Fourth Industrial Revolution disrupted almost every industry and opened infinite career possibilities that require new and emerging skills and trades. It's widely accepted that 65 per cent of students who started elementary school last year will go on to careers we have never heard of.
While it's hard to predict how far emerging technologies will take us, we do know that skilled trades will play a prominent role in the future. According to Skills Canada, as many as 40 per cent of jobs created in Canada this decade alone will be in skilled trades. As time goes on more jobs will require modern, multi-skilled tradespeople who can multi-task and adjust as our economy changes.
Ontario can be a leader in skilling up the next generation of worker, but only if it's willing to try new approaches to training.
Skills and apprenticeship training must be bold, innovative and flexible. Right now it's not.
In a new report, released in June, Maxim Jean-Louis, president of Contact North, provides the impetus for change. An Apprenticeship Skills Agenda, based on feedback from construction leaders across Ontario, offers practical thinking on how to modernize skills training. Rather than focus on time, ratios, compulsory or voluntary certification that's a restrictive, difficult model for apprentices to navigate and complete, the report supports a flexible competency-based system of certification.
Microsoft is already showing the way. In 2014, it set a precedent by certifying Ayan Qureshi of Coventy, England. He was just five years old when he passed the exam and became the world's youngest computer specialist. Qureshi is part of the much sought after online generation.
If industry, government and educators want to appeal to this tech-savvy demographic, that means speaking their language.
Be more creative with online learning. The use of video, e-apprenticeships and assessments that are accessible from anywhere, anytime, are more flexible ways of training future tradespeople and getting them into the workforce sooner. To keep their skills current, a lifelong learning requirement also makes sense.
The report also promotes the importance of exposing students to skilled trades as early as possible. More high school students should be able to start an apprenticeship, whether it's in culinary arts, fashion or permaculture. For students required to perform 40 hours of community work, at least half should be dedicated to mastering trades and practical skills.
The end goal is to foster enough pride in craftsmanship for skilled trades to be considered the first, not the fall back career choice. Improving essential skills is also a big part of any skills strategy when roughly half of Canadians don't have the literacy skills to be high performing in their trade, profession or career.
As our rapidly aging workforce exacerbates the skills gap, this is the time for Ontario to show strong leadership. As the parent of a 10 and 13-year-old, I know there's a lot more we can do to prepare their generation for a career path that is no longer lineal.
Out with the old, in with bold, new apprenticeship and training approaches that ensure future skilled workers have what it takes to innovate, improve productivity and keep Ontario competitive.
Joe Vaccaro is chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. Send comments and Industry Perspectives column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.