Diane Francis: The charitable foundation looking to do something about Canada’s skilled trades deficit

Categories: Canada

It’s becoming as hard to get a plumber or electrician in Canada as it is to get a family physician. This is an issue the Schulich Foundation intends to help address through its recent announcement that it will award 100 annual scholarships at 10 Ontario colleges of up to $40,000 per student enrolled in the skilled trades.

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“We aim to act as a catalyst to grow philanthropic support for colleges and skilled trades,” said Judy Schulich. The foundation, which was established by her father, Seymour Schulich, has donated more than $350 million, awarding 7,000 scholarships annually, endowing a variety of university faculties and providing facilities from libraries to concert halls.

Schulich Builders will be Canada’s largest skilled trade scholarship program, intended to help address labour shortages and highlight the importance of the trades.

“What a wonderful gift,” said Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development, in an interview with the Financial Post. “To me, this really elevates the skilled trade professions, and challenges the stigma around the skilled trades that has been around too long. These professions are meaningful, well-paying, rewarding and help people launch their own businesses.”

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Ontario has made skills training a priority in schools and McNaughton has also pressured Ottawa to bring in many more skilled tradespeople as immigrants. Last week, Ottawa agreed to let Ontario handpick over 18,000 skilled immigrants per year by 2025.

McNaughton said the province will be able to process these applications in 90 days compared with Ottawa’s four-year waiting list for skilled trades. It’s a start, but Ottawa must do more to prioritize immigrants who have the skill sets demanded by today’s employers.

“In March 2020, there were 200,000 jobs unfilled and today there are 350,000. One in three journeypersons today is over 55 and in the next 10 years we will need 100,000 more tradespersons in construction alone. This really is a crisis,” said McNaughton.

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The province’s priority is to train Canadians for these jobs. “We have been reforming the apprenticeship system for three years in Ontario and registrations are up 23 per cent this year overall and up 28 per cent for females. These include everything from construction trades to mechanics, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, bakers, arborists, welders, you name it,” he said.

Ontario is also investing $1.5 billion over four years to promote 140 designated trades and encourage young people to learn them. “We have three pillars: end the stigma, simplify apprenticeships and encourage employers to bring in apprentices. We give $1,000 grants for tools to apprentices to get them started. We send recruiters into high schools in competition with university recruiters,” said McNaughton.

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“Welders and elevator mechanics make more money than PhDs. These are amazing opportunities and for too long government has told young people that the only way to be successful is to go to university, but that’s simply not the truth.”

The Schulich Builders scholarship will reinforce this message by covering tuition, tools and living expenses for 100 students per year, who are nominated and enrolled in a skilled trade program. “We are proud to promote the skilled trades and support students pursuing this rewarding career path,” said Judy Schulich.

“Canadians rely heavily on the trades to build and maintain infrastructure critical for prosperous communities. Our challenge today is not having enough of these talented people to meet the demand.”

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The foundation is asking high schools to nominate students for this scholarship, which will also promote skills training among students. There will be five $20,000 scholarships for one-year certificate programs and five $40,000 scholarships for two-year diploma programs per college. In addition to financial support, Schulich Builders will provide leadership training and mentorship to graduates.

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Hopefully, other foundations and provinces will step up to this challenge and encourage more people to get into the skilled trades and more responsible immigration policies from Ottawa.

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