There is no easy solve to the skill shortage
Column by STEFANO LIESSI
Through conversation and banter amongst sessions of training I am constantly pre- sented with the topic of skilled trades people—and the lack thereof.
Now as I sip on my beverage and take a deep breath, I must practice the art of self-restraint as this is topic is one that sets me off. Finding, hiring, and retaining skilled trades personnel is challenging, at times it seems an act of futil- ity. There is no simple solution, as there is no single cause for this scenario. There are many influences and influencers that contribute to what I see as a catastrophic societal failure. Where do I begin?
Let’s start with the failure of parents. Kids are naive and harmless, as they grow, they choose to experiment, they let curiosity guide them through the tactile experience, as it develops the cognitive ability, it is more engaging at a young age than an academic experience. This is the foundation of trades.
Putting aside the gender card, as that’s a topic for a whole separate article, children are a product of their environment, if you interfere with the thought process that takes them to their happy place, suggesting that this is not rewarding, they will begin to buy into their parents’ influence.
Parents will tend to bring what they learn as they grow into their own parenting styles. If a child’s parents had the thought process instilled into them that “blue collar” is dirty, toxic, and lowly, then as parents, they will pass this stigma along to their kids. Sadly, this stigma thrives, even today due to this very process. The belief is for many that University is the only way to secure your future. This is a flawed, and unsubstantiated argument that gets passed on continuously.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Skills Outlook for 2021, Canada is rated as one of the highest Underemployed or Overqualified work force, with 27 percent of people employed across the country labelled ‘underemployed’. The world average is five percent.
There was a time when higher level post-sec- ondary did give you an advantage. This is no longerthecase.Thistypeofeducationhasaplace and serves a purpose; however, it is not for the majority. This ideology took a strong hold in the 1960s as Vocational (hands-on) education was looked upon as a dumping ground for lower achieving students. Personally, I decided I wanted to pursue collision repair and refinish when I was in elementary school, when I got to the high school level, I was denied entrance to the vocational programs for autobody because I was too smart.
The school had decided what was best for me, proving in my mind that they were not smart enough for their role. If you have a power-hungry admin staff running an educational facility, and the only focus is on their own austerity minded success, and not that of the students, you’re in a losing battle. The curriculum and funding are university-driven and rarely vocationally driven. Ergo, the first to get shut down due to on demand economics are the shop classes and labs.
This is part of the bureaucracy that destroys innovation. The education system is strife with inept officialdom to the point in which it makes me wretch. When these patterns emerge, it becomes difficult to get students into any form of post-secondary, including apprenticeship. Did you know that, according to Statistics Canada, only ten percent of Canadians in their 30shavecompletedtheirapprenticeship?There’s another reason you’re having trouble finding good, skilled employees.
A good portion of this stems from a less-than-functional apprenticeship program in many provinces plagued with—yes, you guessed correctly—bureaucracy. Our systems are flawed to the point where it takes so long to implement a change in curriculum that the implemented outcome becomes obsolete before they get to teach it.
As an example,aluminum welding and repair, it has yet to be implemented into the curriculum in many trade colleges, yet the Ford F-150–the largest selling pick up nationally—has been using aluminum since 2014. That’s eight years kids. CATCH UP!
Why would I want to complete an appren- ticeship when the presented information is dated? In some cases, the instructor is aware of the learning gap, but their hands are tied. They are obligated to teach to the curriculum, regardless of if it is dated or obsolete.
I learned from a reliable source that the reason aluminum was put aside was due to the thought process that “aluminum is just a fad.” Good grief.
Collision centres too can add to the under- lying second issue affecting apprenticeship: the apprenticeship-mentor disconnect. In many cases,apprenticesarepartneredwithtechnicians that are less than qualified to teach or instruct. If they were a teacher or instructor, quite frankly, they wouldn’t be on the floor. According to my trusted source, the general story goes like this: the mentor states to the apprentice, “Okay, forget what they told you in school—I’m going to show you how it’s done.”
The kicker is far too many of these mentors are so far removed from the current OEM pro- ceduresthattheyendupmuddlingthingsworse. In an odd way, if the apprentice’s knowledge is outdated, these mentors may have some merit to their statements. But there are other factors at play here. For one, insurance influences processes and pay structures. Not to mention the negative attitudes from veteran technicians, screaming “get out while you’re young!” from their burrow at the back of the shop.
Nowtobeclear,itisnoteverytechnician—but there are far more with this attitude than there should be. Remember, youngsters become a product of their environment, this includes working environment. The effort required to mitigate this initiative and develop the ap- prenticeship system suffers incredibly from a lack of commitment from employers, public, and governments. Yet nobody seems to want to own this task at hand.
So, here are some solutions I believe could help.
Parents: the conversations around careers need to change. I know—changing this foun- dation is a daunting task. This statement sums it up well, a piece from an Alberta Education periodical: A rich and meaningful vocational education requires parents and teachers to help students see how school and work are complementary, and that ‘good jobs’ take a variety of forms.
One way of closing the gap between academic courses and vocational courses is by having all students participate in hands-on learning opportunities.Teachers, school administrators, employers, and community organizations all have important roles to play in encouraging students to learn about and through work, rather than simply for work. Remove bias and stereotype. Be an advocate for your child, un- derstand that these are life choices for them, not you. They need to do what they want. After all they will be doing this long after you are gone. Let them be happy.
Curriculums: starting with university. Embrace the trades. It is the future, there is a massive change in progress with ITC becoming more and more related to the trades. Students need to understand the correlation between these opportunities. Trades are not a dumping ground for the academically challenged, trades need a focus on more than basic money math. After all, a university degree is generally four years; an apprenticeship spans two to four years, depending on trade.
Honestly, in my opinion, trades should be a minimum of four years with a stronger focus towards on-campus learning. Let’s see all the organizations blend their curriculums to en- hance trades and include the high schools. All three curriculums are so far removed from each other that the student is left almost helpless. In the collision centre: this area is vital to the success of the apprentice, yet very poorly monitored. Staffing of apprenticeship coaching is no where near where it should be, you have these individuals so stretched thin that you have chefs overseeing mechanics, let that sink in. The educational facilities are reluctant to tell the shop how to train the apprentice, which creates problemswithconsistency.Havingcoachesfrom different disciplines (foods, design, plumbing etc.) makes it very difficult for them to audit a shop of an unrelated discipline for placement to see if it up to standard, and able to provide a quality learning experience. The on-the-job training just becomes a free for all, at times leaving apprentices to be exploited. If the shop doesn’t understand how to get the outcomes across, how does this become conducive to a quality experience?
We will need more monitoring by verified quality mentors from both sides: the education side, and the shop side, as well as some training to the collision centre to help them understand how to deal with different learning styles and outcomes, up-to-date outcomes. I am sorry: I do not believe it takes ten years to make an update to the curriculum, that is one seriously sad excuse.
The trades have never been as lucrative, chal- lenging and rewarding as they are now. There is no panacea to the problem, however, in my opinion, and you are entitled to my opinion, there is a common thread here—bureaucracy. And bureaucracy destroys innovation.
A Red Seal technician and founder of Canadian Collision Specialist, Stefano Liessi enhances his experience with 12 years of I-CAR instructing, coupled with high school teaching to bring training that encompasses all learning types. With experience on the corporate side of the industry, as well as in management and ownership, Stefano’s focus is proper repairs and equitably for all people involved in the collision industry.