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Trades deficit: Course lacking despite abundant jobs

They are the jobs that drive the economy, so why isn't shops class mandatory in Manitoba?

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Maples Collegiate student Josh Pangman, right, with Sal Ardita, shop manager at Crown Honda autobody shop.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Maples Collegiate student Josh Pangman, right, with Sal Ardita, shop manager at Crown Honda autobody shop. Photo Store

Josh Pangman takes his lunch bucket to the Crown Honda autobody shop on McPhillips Street for classes every day -- and still played on the Maples Collegiate football team back in the fall.

Daniel Schmidt learns his trade at Kildonan East Collegiate in what is probably the only shops class in a Canadian high school teaching heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Christine Spence travels the short distance from Waywayseecappo First Nation to Rossburn Collegiate and a $1.5-million mobile lab where she's learning a trade.

And 14-year-old Wyatt Tereck just wishes his McCreary School had a shops class where he could hone his considerable carpentry skills.

Call it shops, call it industrial arts or home economics, call it technical and vocational -- Education Minister Nancy Allan says the Selinger government has a strong commitment to preparing students for a career in the trades, the trades that we keep hearing the Manitoba economy desperately needs.

Yet Allan said she has no intention of making shops a core subject in any grade.

And what is offered out there among the 37 school divisions is all over the map.

Shops classes of any sort are offered in barely one-third of junior high and middle schools. Some, such as those at Arthur Day Middle School in Transcona, are extensive and compulsory, but most of those schools have fewer programs, and they are just one option kids can pick from among art or band or dance.

There's a decent smattering of shops in high schools, and there are 13 technical/vocational high schools with serious shops classes meant to stream students into Red River College, Assiniboine Community College or apprenticeship programs.

The public education system is up against parents' expectations for their kids to go to university as the only appropriate career path, lamented Stan Chung, academic and research vice-president at Red River College.

He's been trying to win over guidance counsellors, but it's been hard slogging.

"It's always been a social struggle in getting people to not do what their parents want: get a university degree," Chung said.

"Parents and students don't understand where the jobs are. I have some sympathy for the high schools -- the parents are driving those needs."

Only eight per cent of Red River's students are sequential, which is edu-jargon for students who arrive in September straight from their Grade 12 safe grad in June.

"The difficulty for the high schools is that the trades are evolving," Chung said. "You've got these shops spaces built in the '50s, '60s, '70s for blue-collar trades.

"What is this province doing for those students, 17 and 18 years old, who don't meet the university requirements?" Chung asked.

Allan begs to differ.

"I think we're really changing that culture. We, as a province, really believe students have an option to go into the trades," the minister said. "University isn't an option for them -- it's round pegs in a square hole."

The provincial official overseeing shops said junior high is designed to give students life skills; by Grade 9, they're getting a stronger taste of the trades, and by Grade 11, they should be looking at a career if they're still in the program.

In junior high, "they may be up against all the other options," said Darryl Gervais, director of the instruction, curriculum and assessment branch. "To get as much exposure as possible, they may rotate them through four (industrial arts) areas. They're all optional.

"The idea of industrial arts is to give students an introduction to a variety of areas. It's a useful skill to have," Gervais said. "At grades 11 and 12, we want students to focus on career choices. By Grade 12, they're not sampling anymore."

Gervais acknowledged that Chung's misgivings about parents' attitudes toward community college and the trades are valid.

"We're trying to improve the perception of technical/vocational for the public and for parents -- not all parents see technical/vocational as a first option. There's still the perception that the No. 1 choice is university and the second is the trades," Gervais said. "We are working with industry to make sure the programs are relevant."

Industry will sometimes provide specific training: "They understand that schools can't have the same level of equipment that the aeropsace industry has."

It's not all about being handy with a hammer or welding torch. Gervais said the most important skill shops can develop is being able to work with others, "working in teams and communicating with those teams."

Kirk Baldwin knows the province doesn't have the money to put millions into a shop that's still not close to what's available in a private business.

"How do we get innovative? Have we even caught up to the status quo for need?" asked the divisional principal for Seven Oaks School Division.

What Baldwin and his Co-operative Vocational Education (CVE) program do is put senior students in a Maples Collegiate classroom for 300 hours a year, and in a workplace 900 hours a year, where they'll emerge with a Level 1 apprenticeship.

"They're going in basically the same as an off-the-street apprentice," Baldwin said. "Europe does a marvellous job at it, and Canada is catching up."

An school autobody shop alone would cost at least $2 million, he said. "The Public Schools Finance Board is not going to cough that kind of stuff up."

Baldwin develops relationships with businesses all over the northwestern part of the city -- auto dealers, hotels, restaurants, contractors, hospitals, airlines.

"A large percentage of (Perimeter Aviation's) permanent employees are CVE Maples grads," Baldwin said. "All our health-care aides have a job waiting for them."

Industrial arts teachers can spot kids who are good with their hands and make them aware of the program.

Of course, teachers push high school students toward university, Baldwin said: "Who works in schools? You (teachers) have to have five years of university. We're all university-educated, so surprise, surprise.

"My vocational teachers talk and act totally differently. It's two different animals."

Now there are jobs opening up in Manitoba in the oil industry. "Are we catching those kids in high school and training them?"

The plumbing industry eagerly wants grads, he said: "They're going mental, like, 'hurry up.' "

Baldwin found a place for student Josh Pangman in the massive, brand-new autobody shop at Crown Honda.

"We don't have to buy this shop. School divisions can't afford to do that anymore," Baldwin said.

Pangman had to finish his academics before getting near a car, said instructor Lawrence Danylchuk. Eventually, he'll need 1,800 hours on the shop floor for each of four levels of apprenticeship.

"We hope we can develop an employee for industry," said Danylchuk. "There's no sugar coating."

Pangman heard about CVE at an assembly at Maples at the end of Grade 11.

"As soon as I saw the presentation, I wanted to jump in. I feel like I'm a part of it, I feel like I'm a worker here. The first day, they threw me in."

Over at Government Air, Lawrence Gomez is working on the engines of water bombers and air ambulances. Heady stuff for Grade 12.

"We try to treat it like a regular job. They need to provide their own transportation," said Seven Oaks instructor Andreas Laubstedt. "All students are partnered up with a mentor. They spend three months in the classroom with me."

Laubstedt placed 18 students in Winnipeg's aviation industry earlier this school year.

"We'd like to have girls. We'd like to have more females in the industry -- it's a heavily male-dominated field," he said.

Manitoba is the only province that has an apprenticeship program in aviation. Placing students in Winnipeg is one thing, said Baldwin, but it would be a lot tougher in a rural high school and only a few local employers.

Brian Humniski of Maples Collegiate has 13 students in the hotel industry this year learning culinary arts, baking or hospitality. "People will see if it's for them or not for them. I have many more workplaces than I ever have students."

Now working in the kitchen at the airport Hilton, Maree Rodriguez heard about CVE from the guidance counsellor at Garden City Collegiate.

"I've always loved to cook, and I thought it was a good way to get a taste of the industry. I was planning to go to Red River.

"At first, it was 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to see what it was like, a lot of prep work," mainly salads and sandwiches. "Most of it is a lot of chopping and slicing."

But Rodriguez progressed to evening shifts and cooking for Saturday banquets and weddings.

Kildonan East Collegiate is one of Manitoba's 13 technical vocational high schools, and with 10 shops, one of the biggest in the province. It's quite the beehive of thriving capitalism.

You can go into KEC to have your hair done, get your oil changed, order some catering, get your passport photo taken or bring in the baby for a portrait -- though, it should be noted, not all in the same classroom.

Principal Diane Posthumus doesn't just sit and wait for students to show up.

"We spend a fair bit of time talking to the middle schools. We tour 1,000 kids through in the springtime. We're full in most of our shops areas," Posthumus said.

In Grade 9, students can take up to six half credits in various programs. Grade 10 is considered an exploratory year, with a choice in shops of two to three credits.

There's a spiffy hairdressing salon.

"They get the sense of being in a shop," Posthumus said. "They have to learn to stand and work constantly, and that's one of the challenges for students."

Culinary arts has four full-time teachers and 150 students. "We have a catering service we offer to the community," and students cook for the school cafeteria.

"It's (priced at) cost recovery," said Posthumus, who's had her fingers crossed for six years that the province will find the money for a major capital renovation of the kitchens.

"I always liked home ec in junior high classes," said culinary arts student Trey Manoakeesick. "It's a huge kitchen compared to home ec in junior high, with a stove and a sink."

Culinary arts student Melanie Arseny laughed: "I'm going to be an engineer, but I want to eat well for the rest of my life."

Outside, Frank Volovich was wielding tools in carpentry: "We're building a little playhouse for the elementary school in Lowe Farm. I like to build stuff, basically."

Kildonan East is believed to have the only high school climate-control technology lab in Canada. "Any student who does well is guaranteed a job," the principal said.

Daniel Schmidt is pretty impressed to be in climate-control technology, though unlike his classmates, he's going into mechanical engineering rather than a trade. "About Grade 9 is when I started getting interested. It's unique -- this has electrical and plumbing and sheet metal. It gives you the basics of what every building has, of what it takes to build it."

Kildonan East teacher Murray Malcomson runs one of the biggest automotive programs in the public school system. "We can buy cars from MPI for a reasonable price if they never go on the road again. Our shop does a lot of customer vehicles -- Grade 10 students do oil changes."

Even if they don't become professionals, said Malcolmson, "they're all going to have houses, they're all going to have cars."

Student Matt Cassie has worked on his parents' brakes since he was 10. "Ever since I was a kid, I'd do work on my dirt bike."

He's going to Red River for aerospace mechanics and hopes to work for Boeing.

Shops aren't an option at Arthur Day Middle School in Transcona -- the option part is choosing between art and music. All 424 students take shops, said principal Mark Bruce.

They take woodworking, cooking, plastics, graphics, and clothing and textiles.

"Everybody does. They get a full afternoon once a cycle," Bruce said.

Grade 6 students get four or five shops over the year, Grade 7 students one a term. Grade 8 gets extra time in any area in which the student has shown aptitude.

In food, "their best outcomes are going to come from working together. They were making a healthy version of baked french fries -- the smell in here was intoxicating," Bruce said.

Cooking teacher Cathie Starkell noted: "I was amazed how many of them make supper for themselves. It's definitely a life skill."

Bruce chuckled that "a Grade 7 student fixed the button on my shirt. I can't do that, they can."

Said clothing teacher Heidi Schnepf: "They know how to use a needle and thread. They can mend their own clothing."

And if the province can't afford to build a huge shop for each trades area, and if there are no businesses to which a school can send students, just check out the parking lot at Rossburn Collegiate in Park West School Division.

Red River College has two mobile campuses, each worth $1.5 million, that fold up like an 18-wheeler but have expanding floors and sides that open up into a large work area complete with work stations, exhaust fans and specialized equipment and tools.

The one parked at Rossburn Collegiate serves students from both Rossburn and nearby Waywayseecappo First Nation.

"We're doing some basic electrical stuff. Waywayseecappo wanted to focus on electrical, plumbing and carpentry," said instructor Doug Muir, whom Red River puts up in a bed and breakfast while students do 10 weeks of theory and 10 weeks of practical training.

Christine Spence comes from Waywayseecappo each day. "I heard about it through my mother-in-law (Colleen Clearsky). She's director of education. I was still going to school at adult education. It's a pretty good setup."

Park West superintendent Tim Mendel said educators are hoping to convert an old hotel and offices on Waywayseecappo into a training centre. "We're trying to figure out: Can we get a second level of training?"

If the centre at Waywayseecappo could become a training centre, then Park West, Red River, Assiniboine and Winnipeg Tech could all offer programs, he said. It's close enough to Saskatchewan to be accessible to students.

Then there's 14-year-old Wyatt Tereck out in McCreary, where students and parents got so infuriated by Turtle River school trustees' cutting grades 7 and 8 shops despite a substantial increase in provincial funding that Allan dispatched deputy minister Gerald Farthing to investigate. His report is pending.

Wyatt said he and his classmates did amazing things in woodworking back in Grade 7 before it got the axe this school year.

"TRSD have decided to cut shops and home ec and put in a very costly course -- band," he wrote from McCreary.

"They will also be introducing a new course in Glenella, an automotive (high school) class. This will cost them a fair amount that they think should be spent on it rather than shops and home ec, the courses the students want," Wyatt lamented.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 J1

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