Build a Great Trades Career in 10 Years or Less: Making the Most of the Trades Employment Gap
The future of the trades in Canada is caught between two seemingly opposing forces. On the one hand, future-forward industries that rely on the trades are expected to see huge growth over the next decade: renewable energy generation, electric vehicle and charging infrastructure, residential and commercial construction, and upgrading the infrastructure that underpins our cities and towns, just to name a few.
On the other hand, the trades are seeing an unprecedented gap between the trades jobs that are available—both now and expected over the next decade—and the number of skilled tradespeople to fill them.
Over the next decade, the skilled trades are expected to see a significant widening of this gap as an increasing number of older, experienced tradespeople reach retirement age and leave the workforce. This has only been exacerbated by the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many older workers—when faced with lockdowns, changing working conditions, and the risk of illness—simply taking the opportunity to retire.
This isn’t the only reason for the widening gap—and the other primary reason isn’t surprising. There are fewer young people entering the trades than ever before; specifically, there are not enough new tradespeople coming into the workforce to replace those who are retiring, much less to increase the trades workforce to the levels required by all the growing industries.
We’ve seen several decades of well-meaning but somewhat misguided effort by schools, parents, and the government emphasizing a university education as the “best” path to a successful career—even though this isn’t always true, and university isn’t the best fit for everyone. But this past trend of steering young people away from entering the trades has certainly contributed to the trades crisis we’re seeing now.
Fewer people working in the trades will have impacts in many industries, particularly those that are anticipated to grow over the next decade such as construction, sustainability and green/renewable energy, and many service trades. This will make it more difficult to start and complete vital projects such as residential homes and affordable housing projects, upgrading and constructing infrastructure, installing and maintaining solar and wind farms for energy generation, and much more.
But this doesn’t mean the trades are doomed, or that it is a sign for further avoidance of a trades career; in fact, it’s just the opposite. The next 10 years will present unprecedented opportunities for young people to enter the trades and advance quickly in their career to fill the positions created by the wave of retirement. And the sooner you act, the better, as you will have more opportunities to learn from those experienced older tradespeople before they retire.
Young people who are just finishing high school and want to enter the trades are in a great position to make the most of these changes and opportunities to come over the next decade.
If you already know what trade you want to enter, great! If not, then you need to decide on a trades path to follow. There are lots of resources to help you figure out the best fit. High school co-op programs, job shadowing, trades bootcamps and information available through trade schools and provincial employment programs are all great options. Most of these will let you experience what it’s like to work in a trade, and to speak with professional tradespeople about their careers.
You can also talk to your teachers, guidance counsellors, friends, and family to figure out what trade will suit you the best. You should take into consideration your physical capabilities – can you lift and move heavy objects? Do you like working with your hands? Also consider your interests – Hair and makeup? Mechanics and engines? Cars, or plants, or cooking, or building things?
Once you know your trade, you can start preparing. If you still have a year or two of high school left, use that time to do some job shadowing and co-op programs. Most trades will require finishing high school, completing an apprenticeship and training courses, and possibly certification tests such as Red Seal certification. Research the requirements to apply for apprenticeships, and determine how long you will need to complete it. Planning your career path early can be helpful to making sure you stay on track.
Entering the workforce as a young tradesperson in the next few years means you’ll be in the perfect position to take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available over the next decade.