They’re well-paid and plentiful. So why do people still look down on them?

The new trades and technology complex at SAIT opened its doors to the public on Sept. 15.

The $400-million complex adds 740,000-square feet to the campus and will provide seats for 8,100 new students – 3,600 of them taking on apprenticeships.

SAIT apprenticeship coordinator Nino Belvedere said although the school will be taking in new students, SAIT still faces perception challenges when recruiting students for skilled trades.

“When you’re in junior high to high school, most of the teachers and counselors who guide you have taken the university path,” he said. “Many are not aware of all the great career paths available through apprenticeships so they typically try to guide most students toward a university path.”

A study done collaboratively by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum indicated that, “Family, friends, employers, and other tradespeople have a much greater influence on prospective apprentices’ decisions to enter into a program than secondary school guidance counselors and teachers, college instructors, media advertising, or other sources of information.”

Belvedere said that there are three primary myths about the trades:

1) Skilled trades are not for students with good grades

Belvedere said this is false because skilled trades require a strong academic foundation. Like university, pursuing an apprenticeship requires a high school diploma.

Jarrett Traptow, a second-year electrical apprentice said: “You need to have Apprenticeship coordinator Nino Belvedere, said he thinks the new trades and technology complex will help shape the future of trades in Calgary.

Photo by Deja Leonarda good attitude and be willing to put your head down and work hard. If you do that you can succeed.”

Traptow never thought he would end up in the trades, but couldn’t be happier.

After high school his grades permitted him many options. But with the encouragement of his family, some of which were already involved in the trades, he chose to become an electrician.

2) Skilled trades are a dead-end

“Like any career path, it’s all up to the individuals capability and desire,” Belvedere said. “These apprenticeships offer chances for job specialization and business ownership.”

Produced by Deja Leonard

Les Conley went to SAIT and has been working in the trades for 35 years. He now owns his own business.

He took other courses such as business management, computer skills and people management before he had the knowledge and skill to become part-owner of a successful company.

“Now people perceive me to be quite successful and knowledgeable because I’ve made a study of my trade,” he said.

Although Conley has experienced success he said he thinks the negative perceptions associated with the trades haven’t changed as much as he’d like.

“Every company started with one guy, one apprentice,” he said.

3) Skilled trades do not pay well

Belvedere said that tradespeople earn above average incomes. Very often they complete their apprenticeship without debt because of their “earn while you learn” set up.

The national apprenticeship survey indicated that approximately 40 per cent of those who completed their apprenticeship programs reported earning an income of more than $60,000. Over half said they earned between $25 and $50 per hour.

Conley said that the sky is the limit when it comes to the trades. If a person works hard and applies him or herself they can advance in the trades.

Belvedere said that although they face these challenges he still sees definite growth for the trades, and plenty of employability for the students coming out of apprenticeships.

Traptow said, “I think a lot of people have changed their opinion about the trades lately. Before the trades were seen as what you do if you didn’t want to go to university.

Now it seems like people look at you and see that you can become successful in a trade. They respect you because it is a lot of hard work,” he added.

dleonard@cjournal.ca 

Correction: The second paragraph originally stated that the new trades and technology complex at SAIT took $4 million to build. The actual cost of the build was $400 million. We apologize for this error.