Jul. 15, 2022

Investing in youth skills – for their future as well as ours

Twenty-two percent of Canada’s construction workforce is expected to retire by 2030, leaving a gap of as many as 81,000 workers to supply the 22 million housing units Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation forecasts are needed to have a chance at achieving housing affordability.

At Habitat for Humanity Canada, we have a vested interest in fixing this gap. We believe everyone should have a decent place to call home, but 1 in 8 households in Canada live in a home that is unaffordable, overcrowded or in need of major repairs. We know that the current solutions are not delivering the affordable housing we need: we must build more, build faster, and build now. And building more – from deeply affordable housing to market rentals and homes – will require a strong skilled trades industry.

In honour of this year’s World Youth Skills Day, we want to encourage more youth to pursue a career in the skilled trades, an investment that will benefit not only Canada but the youth themselves. One way we know that youth can be encouraged to consider skilled trades as a career choice is to provide more educational partnerships that give youth hands-on learning opportunities.

The skilled trades can offer challenging career opportunities that help youth build a stronger financial future for themselves. As part of Habitat Canada’s Every Youth Initiative, a program that provides volunteer and educational opportunities with a local Habitat, including building affordable homes for people with low incomes, Allan Nason, lead teacher of the Construction Tech program at Notre Dame High School in Burlington, partnered with Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin's build with the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.

Nason’s students spent the year learning construction skills while building two Tiny Homes. On the build site, they were introduced to every aspect of the job and every sub-trade such as roofing, plumbing, and siding; nine of them went straight into an apprenticeship when school ended. He cites the Habitat for Humanity partnership as being a game-changer for his students, introducing practical hands-on skills as well as an opportunity to learn about social justice and reconciliation.

The skilled trades deficit in Canada has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, which limited vital in-person learning and training. Delays in training required for apprentice programs resulted in a 30% decrease in registration and a 40% decrease in certification in 2020. Nason said that companies being cautious about investing time in apprenticeships for those with very little practical experience was another challenge, despite the fact that many will feel the hit of a skilled trades deficit.

Despite the benefits, there remains stigma around pursuing a career in the skilled trades. Alberta’s Skills for Jobs Task Force found that students felt pursuing a skilled trade would limit their options, while educators felt that trades were not held in high esteem by parents, students, the school system – and teachers themselves. Meanwhile, the Government of Ontario found that youth and parents still saw skilled trades as a last resort for those who do not excel academically. Educational partnerships like Habitat’s Every Youth Initiative can help break down that stigma by introducing youth to professionals who can share their experience. It can also provide educators with an invaluable opportunity to instill a sense of pride in their students and confirm that they are working towards building something that someone will be able to use.

Encouraging more partnerships – between educational institutions, nonprofits as well as employers – will provide more students with not only practical, hands-on experience but an opportunity to a new career path. And we need more youth to help us build – for their future as well as ours.