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Demand for trades

The trades field covers a wide variety of industries including:

  • Automotive
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Electrician
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing
  • Welding
  • Cooking

No matter where you join, the stigma surrounding trades appears to be declining compared to previous decades, says Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444. Parents are open to encouraging their children to pursue an apprenticeship over an undergraduate degree.

“The stereotype of skilled trades people being unable to make it into university has really gone to the wayside,” Cassidy says.

The federal government is also encouraging more people to pursue a career in the trades. In January 2022, they launched a campaign to promote skilled trades, which includes nearly $1 billion in funding for apprenticeships and grants. The initiative was born out of the anticipated demand for trade jobs since it is expected that up to 700,000 trade workers are expected to retire by 2028.

According to Cassidy, trades such as construction are attracting more skilled workers from other industries.

“They're making a lot more money on the outside than they would be working on the inside [with a white-collar job],” Cassidy says, adding that other popular industries include the energy and auto sector.

However, some trends suggest that this may not last forever and industries like construction may fluctuate depending on the economy. In September, Statistics Canada reported 28,000 layoffs for workers in construction.

However, Statistic Canada reports that there was positive job growth in construction in January, following a decrease in November. Ontario and Alberta notably increased by 16,000 and 13,000 employees respectively. Whether the construction industry continues to grow remains to be seen and will be partially dependent on the state of the economy.

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Apprenticeships vs tuition

For Gouin — who did half of an English literature program before pursuing her apprenticeship — the cost of trade school was much cheaper than university tuition. An undergraduate student can expect to spend an average of $6,834 for the 2022/2023 academic year.

Apprenticeships are generally much cheaper. Centennial College, for example, offers a sample average of $1,800 to $2,000 for one academic year. The welding and fabrication techniques program at Algonquin College is estimated at about $6,700 total for the three semester program. Some co-op and apprenticeship placements may also have an additional fee.

Some apprenticeships may require apprentices to source their own tools but some provinces, like Ontario, offer a tool grant, to help alleviate costs.

There are also federal grants that provide financial aid. If you are part of certain demographics you may be eligible for funding that’s meant to provide diversity among applicants.

“There's also grants that they offer after each year of completing a year of apprenticeship,” Gouin says.

If you have paid for your tools you will want to keep your receipts during tax season so you can file your equipment as business expenses.

Prospects and pay

While you may think a trade involves a lot of manual labour. That isn’t always the case. Cassidy says that there are opportunities for roles like becoming a skills teacher for a college or becoming a manager for a shop.

Depending on how many years of experience they have, a journeyman — someone who has completed their apprenticeship — can make $100,000 to $200,000 a year, Cassidy says.

Cassidy began apprenticing as an electrician in 1985 after leaving high school. He started making about $30,000 a year but once he joined Chrysler (now Stellantis) in 1993 as a maintenance electrician, he made $100,000 in his first year.

Since many trade programs include co-ops and placements, students can get hands-on experience, while also getting paid for their work and logging hours for their apprenticeship.

The only disadvantage is finding a business to sponsor you, Cassidy says. Many businesses that offer apprenticeships will have hundreds of applicants applying for a limited number of positions. Once you pass that hurdle, growing a career in the trades becomes easier, especially if you are open to travelling globally.

Most people start off making around 60% of what a journeyman makes, Cassidy says, adding that percentages vary between residential, industrial, and commercial industries.

“Every thousand hours, it goes up by 5%, until you get to your four-year apprenticeship to the full wage of a journeyman,” Cassidy says.

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Requirements

The requirements for full certification will vary by province but if the trade you’re applying to is considered part of a Red Seal trade, then you can eventually apply for a Red Seal certification. This certification will allow you to work anywhere in Canada.

To qualify, you will need to log a prerequisite number of hours and semesters. In Gouin’s case she is completing 8,000 work hours as part of her four-year apprenticeship.

Gouin is also in a block release system, where apprentices spend a period of time away from their job to study other skills in addition to regular testing, lectures, and workshops.

“We go to college for that eight weeks, and we do our education portion. And then we continue to work until we have about another year experience and then we'll pop back into school again,” Gouin says.

An additional piece of advice Cassidy gives for people interested in apprenticeships is to look at different trade fields and see what benefits you the most.

“There's going to be so many jobs in the future,” Cassidy says. “People like my age, they're gonna be retiring in the next few years and there will be many openings for people, and it's a great opportunity.”

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