More women and people of colour are joining the skilled trades workforce and that change is reflected in Humber’s training programs.
“We have the highest number of females at the college, as well as female instructors that we’ve ever had, so it’s a change in population,” said Scott Green, Humber Student Success and Engagement liaison.
“Three years ago it was predominately white males. We’re seeing a more diverse group in terms of socio-economic status,” he said.
He said his job is to refer students and “if a student needs help, my job is to find the help, ” said Green. “We’re not in a position to and we would ever force a student to work with us. It’s always the student’s choice.”
Socio-economic diversity has brought challenges but Green said Humber is working to address them.
“The biggest issues with this population are generally all apprentice programs have a high percentage of people with learning disabilities and drug and alcohol addiction, which are the two major issues for apprentices,” said Green.
Apprentices are required to complete three levels in trade school, where they are in class for eight weeks and then working in their chosen field for a specific number of hours.
Once they complete the final eight-week program, they can write their licensing test.
“Part of being an apprentice, which is the end goal, is they already have to have an employer before they can actually come to trade school,” Green said.
“We have full secondary programs like Introduction to Electrical and Introduction to Plumbing, which are the two biggest apprentice programs.”
Along with the increase in women entering the skilled trades, there needs to be a change in attitude, Green said. What may be either acceptable or common on the jobsite is not acceptable in the classroom.
“They are trades people [and] they’re used to being on the job, so political correctness is perhaps not the highest among their concerns,” Green said, adding there have been times people had to be reminded that some types of conversation are not acceptable.
“There have been some educational pieces around saying what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate,“ Green said. “This isn’t the job site, it isn’t the locker room, but for most part I think the female apprentices have felt welcomed and fit in well and we’re certainly glad to have them.
“It’s really rewarding to see them taking on careers that they find value (in). Many of them, their fathers and grandfathers were in the trades themselves. It’s really rewarding to see them,” he said.
Cost has been an inhibiting factor for women and men alike in seeking to train in the trades. While apprentices have jobs, students in the introduction courses are looking for work.
“There are so many levels of trade school that students need to complete, but if they feel their job experience or life experience is equivalent to a level of trade school, the ministry does give them the option to do an exemption test,” said Melissa McKinnon, student support officer at Humber College Trade School.
“For the test exemption testing, especially electrical, it’s a very challenging exam,” said McKinnon.
She said the basic trade school program is eight weeks, with a 30-hour per week minimum.
“At least more than half of the people who come to trade school pass,” she said.
“I got signed on with an employer first and then the employer sent me to school, there was no exemption test I had to write,” said William Coyle, a electrician journeyman with Panson Electrical Services Ltd. “Once you find a sponsor for your apprenticeship, you’re in.”