THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE GRAND VALLEY CONSTRUCTION ASSOCIATION

July - August 2024

deCONSTRUCTED - FEATURE ARTICLE

Expanding STEM to include skilled trades

Summer camps are a place for making memories and learning new skills. Many of us fondly remember learning how to fish or set up a tent. Today, children are building new memories and skills as they spend time at camp discovering how atoms bond or getting an early start on building robots.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming is continuing to grow in demand as parents look for ways to set their children up for future success in in-demand fields. But while STEM programming isn’t solely focused on careers in high-tech fields, the messaging can often make it seem that way.

We want to help change this messaging problem. We need to reshape the conversation on STEM to help children—and their parents—see it as a path to a rewarding and well-paying career in the skilled trades.

By 2026, one in five job openings in Ontario is projected to be in the skilled trades. But finding skilled tradespeople for those roles will continue to be a challenge. The gap in skilled trades talent isn’t static either. In an interview earlier this year, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told the CBC that the construction sector needs 72,000 new workers by 2027 to make up for retiring trades peoples.

The province is working to create more ways for students to discover skilled trade opportunities while in high school. In a statement, Minister McNaughton said that starting in September 2024, all students entering high school will be required to earn a Grade 9 or 10 Technological Education credit as part of their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

“By requiring students to take at least one Technological Education credit in high school, we are opening up doors and creating pathways to good-paying jobs in STEM and the skilled trades,” Minister McNaughton said.

The province has also introduced new annual provincial-wide skilled trades career fairs. In Fall 2022, 11,230 students from more than 345 schools attended five fairs across Ontario.

Creating new opportunities in schools is needed, but what about extra-curricular programming?

Tobi Day-Hamilton is the founder of LAUNCH Waterloo. This organization provides STEAM programming, camps, and other activities to help children foster a love of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. She said introducing children and their parents or caregivers to STEAM is critical to helping them see the opportunities available.

“STEM is really about how you can better understand our world and apply those understandings to what we need in life,” Day-Hamilton said. “You’re using math to figure out how to frame out a house. You’re using engineering skills, you’re using physics, you’re using all of those skills to build it. The question is, how do we get more parents to understand that a skilled trade is a valid career?”

One significant challenge—especially here in Waterloo Region—is the assumption that STEM means tech. Day-Hamilton said parents often assume that the path is from high school to college or university to a tech job. She added that while it is a valid path, parents must also understand that there are other valid paths.

“Doing a trade is fantastic—and for a lot of kids, it’s a way better mode for them to learn because it’s hands-on,” Day-Hamilton said.“One of the things that we talked about at LAUNCH is that it’s important for kids to physically touch and feel to understand how things work and move in this world. Then imagine taking that and be able to take that and make it into a career. How awesome is that?”

While parents of children in LAUNCH programs see the value in STEM education, Day-Hamilton said we need to do more to educate parents on the opportunities out there. She added that the rise of artificial intelligence tools could potentially make many existing tech roles obsolete in the coming years, and parents need to start thinking about that now for their children.

“Now is the right time to have these conversations. If we look at future-proof careers, we’re always going to need buildings. We’re always going to need roads. We’re always going to need somebody to fix the plumbing in our house—skilled trades are future-proof careers,” Day-Hamilton said.

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