So how do you get high school students interested in a field that's been going through a rough time and does not have the same allure as "rock star" or "professional athlete?" According to the formula at the Career Technical Centre (CTC) in Prince George, B. C., you let them experience it first hand and make it worth their while.
A partnership between the College of New Caledonia and two nearby school districts, the CTC allows students to gain experience in a trade while both gaining high school elective credits and college credits that can be applied to a first year of technical training. The program offers opportunities in a number of different trades, including four that send students to Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership (CPLP) in Prince George. Students looking to gain experience as a welder/fitter, industrial mechanic/machinist, electrician, or in heavy-duty mechanical transport receive a week of safety orientation and then spend one month working alongside Canfor employees. Each student receives a minimum of 200 hours of work experience through the program, explained CTC coordinator Tim Power.
And, to make things even more interesting, Canfor puts up a $1,500 bursary for each student, half of which is paid after the work experience, and the other half upon high school graduation.
"They work right along with our tradesmen and they get a chance to practice some of the new skills they've acquired. It's something we're very proud to participate in," said David Scott, CPLP's human resources general manager.
However, the industry's negative connotation over the past few years has made it tougher to convince young people to give certain trades a try.
"With the number of sawmills closing around here, millwright has a bad connotation. So, there's parents saying, 'Don't do that,'" Power said. Although he believes the industry will pick up again, he added CTC has changed the millwright program's name to 'industrial mechanic' for this reason. "It's a bit of a struggle to convince people that there's no work, now's the time to train."
Nevertheless, with about 350 tradespeople nearing retirement at CPLP, the students that do participate realize the potential.
"The kids are realistic that, boy, if I do a good job, there might be something in it for me a couple of years down the road," Power said. Several students have also hired on with CPLP in entry-level positions, waiting to get apprenticeships. "Canfor is looking at these young people as really good candidates...They finish Grade 12 with those first year credentials. They are a whole lot more employable than someone who just wants to be an industrial mechanic."
And, according to Power, the workers at the mill benefit, too: "It changes the dynamic between management and the union, because they have something positive to talk about where there's no win and loss," Power said of the program, which is going into its 10th session in February. "Most of the tradespeople want a kid for the summer. They have a lot to give and a lot to teach."
For more on the program, visit www.cnc.bc.ca/ctc.PPC