09/29/2014 05:50 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Teach Trades To Children If You Really Want Skilled Labour

The massive disconnect here is clear. The B.C. government talks up trades and minimally delivers post-secondary trades education, but does not fund the very building blocks the people filling those seats will need: well-resourced shops and shop teachers.

BC Gov Flickr

For too long, technical education has been relegated to the back of school buildings and slowly starved of funding, save for some creative PACs (parent advisory committees) who step up to buy some equipment. (By the way, that's only eligible to events that occur outside of the curriculum under the false assumption our education system is adequately funded by government.)

Many shops in British Columbia sit idle and dusty for lack of funding. Where they still exist, shop class has become a convenient place to place those students struggling in other areas so the old stigma of "shops for dummies" persists and many parents would rather mortgage the house for a university placement than allow their child to do a trade.

You've been hearing a lot about trades as this B.C. Liberal government seems hellbent on delivering qualified trades to its LNG masters.

But here's the thing, folks. Creating post-secondary trades seats at a university (as was announced this week) is little help.

If trades isn't an integral and integrated part of the education system from a young age, our children simply don't see it as a relevant or viable choice for further study. Nor are their minds trained in things technical.

My husband is a technical (shop) teacher and he has a mechanical and mathematical mind. He can see how a block of wood can become a spoon, how pieces of metal can be welded together to be strong, how to connect wires to make a circuit, how to program a robot to actually move.

All these things baffle my mind. My brain has not been stretched to think in these ways. Naturally, my husband thinks I, and all the kids in his school, can be taught these things.

He also believes I could learn physics. Bless the eternal optimism of teachers!

What he does know is that by the time he gets to introduce these technical skills (basic building blocks towards those prized trades) to students in Grade 8 in high school, it is very challenging for many of them who have not had to connect their smart brains to their hands.

As an early childhood instructor, I spend a significant amount of time teaching our students how to help children develop eye-hand coordination. And then when we send them to school, those skills are used for writing and baseball?

While all Grade 8 students are given a tiny taste of the technical education offerings in a school (a few weeks at most) many never return. And why is that?

Because for the most part, the technical areas of the school -- "the shops" -- are not a place any of us would want to spend much time. Often too small, dimly lit, with machines that are old and noisy, full of dust and improper ventilation. Not spaces conducive to creative and technical learning.

And let's talk about the teacher. The technical teacher program at BCIT (B.C. Institute of Technology) is in decline. Why? Because districts saddled with funding tech ed are wary of expanding these programs. They are costly to run and heavy on resources. In our district, there are hardly any tech teachers on call and not much hope of attracting more.

What we need are natural teachers who want to teach technical skills, instead of approaching trades and luring them into the classroom. The salary alone would be sufficient deterrent, not to mention those pesky kids!

Of course there are some amazingly dedicated specialist tech ed teachers doing innovative work with matchsticks and tin foil -- and managing to engage bright kids, and keep the ones with behavioural and other issues from losing limbs. Like their colleagues they spend hours allowing kids to be in the shops after school to tinker and build and practice, and sometimes just be there because it's better than being anywhere else.

And so the massive disconnect here is clear. The government talks up trades and minimally delivers post-secondary trades education, but does not fund the very building blocks the people filling those seats will need: well-resourced shops and shop teachers.

It's time for Premier Christy Clark to come clean and tell her LNG cronies that she hasn't been in a "shop" in a B.C. high school for decades and has no idea how her precious tradespeople are being incubated (or not).

Tech ed needs to start young, be integrated into all school from early grades, and properly funded — or sometime soon when you call a plumber in the dead of winter because your hot water tank has blown, all you will hear is a dial tone. And that LNG plant we've staked our economic future on.... Yeah, it's closed due to lack of skilled labour.


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