Island high school students are getting a fresh, new introduction into a possible career in skilled trades
Mark Rogerson, a Grade 11 student, is musing over becoming a mechanic.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure but it’s something I’m looking into,’’ says Rogerson. “I think it would be something great to do.’’
The 15-year-old student is taking an automotive course at Colonel Gray High School, making him one of about 1,000 students enrolled in one of 18 newly implemented Career and Technical Education (CTE) skilled trades courses now available to Island students in varying degrees in all 10 high schools in the Eastern School District and the Western School Board.
The 18 courses include six each in automotive technology, welding technology and carpentry technology.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is also currently developing/revising three courses in foods and nutrition, one course in design technology and updated curriculum related to intermediate technology education.
The concerted trades thrust is the result of the department acting on the P.E.I. Trades Strategy report that came out in 2005. The report proposed a new direction for approaching trades training within the province at all levels.
In response, the department redeveloped curriculum and evaluated available facilities, instructors and practices, says John Stephens, career and technical education specialist with the department.
“Some schools ( had) offered nine courses in one area, some offered one,’’ he said of the inconsistent hodgepodge of curriculum that was in place.
“ When we started this process there was 36 different carpentry courses in Prince Edward Island and post-secondary institutions and apprenticeships couldn’t identify one from the other … now there is six and they are defined and all schools are using the same program.’’
Kent Sheen, program manager of Industrial Technology and Trades with Holland College, lauds the Education Department’s “great strides’’ towards standardizing curriculum for skilled trades courses.
“ There was (in the past) no sort of consistency from school to school,’’ he said.
The trade strategy also calls for getting students more engaged in skilled trades, to give them greater awareness of what is available as a possible career, and to give them a clear exit plan.
To meet that objective, says Stephens, the department designed a six-credit program in three different trade disciplines — automotive, carpentry and welding — with each discipline having six credits with 660 hours of instruction.
The curriculum addresses core occupational skills, literacy skills, numeric skills, and employability skills required of skilled trades people.
CTE students are encouraged to enroll in co-operative education
classes to support their development within the skilled trades and get some real-life experience in a skilled trade environment, says Stephens.
CTE students who maintain an average of 70 per cent or greater may receive up to 1,000 hours towards their apprenticeship training based on their transcripts and upon registering with the P.E.I. Apprenticeship Division.
Sheen says Holland College is in the process of determining what credits it may award to students completing CTE programs in high school.
Rogerson has been taking note of what he needs to acquire in the way of grades outside of automotive class in order to get into an automotive school.
“So that has kind of got me to try to bring up some of my other marks a lot more now that I see you need whatever to get into it — not just that you can get terrible marks in high school and get right in and be a mechanic,’’ he said.
Trevor Dodds teaches automotive and welding courses at Colonel Gray. He consciously adds strong academic components to his courses that incorporate reading strategies, mathematics and physics.
“It’s by far not an easy course because of the challenges with the text books,’’ he said. “And in the shop, it’s demanding. These kids are learning how to do what the trade specialists do in their fields.’’
Stephens says pursuing a career as a skilled tradesman today means more than simply being good with one’s hands.
“I mean if you are going to make it in skilled trades, you have got to be good with your head as well as your hands,’’ he said.
“It’s not just going out and being a labourer. You do have to be able to think. You do have to be able to reason and troubleshoot — and sometimes on the spot, on your feet.’’
Stephens believes the negative perception of trades as being grunt work for academic underachievers is, unfortunately, endur- ing.
“I don’t think you are ever going to shake that,’’ he said.
“ The reality is that when you are in the skilled trades, you are going to get your hands dirty and that looks different than the academic world.’’
Janelle Farrar, 16, is a strong academic student at Colonel Gray that also likes to work on cars. She is in the advanced automotive course at the Charlottetown school.
Still, she confronts the stigma that comes with choosing a career in trades.
Farrar says she is looking to go to university rather than college in part because she knows that is the preference of her parents. She still may be able to combine her love of working on vehicles with a university education. She says she likes the idea of teaching automotive courses for a living.
“I’m kind of thinking about it as a career,’’ she said.
Dodds says he has a good mix of academic students, general students and practical students in his automotive classes. He says students have different reasons for taking the CTE programs.
“Some kids just don’t like the regular mainstream school,’’ he said.
Stephens says the department of education is not trying to increase the number of trades people at the high school level. Rather, the hope is that students taking CTE programs will have an in depth understanding of what it means to work and learn in a skilled trade environment.
He says the big goal is to make clear to students what options they have and to give them the tools they need to make an intelligent and informed choice.
“ We haven’t gone out on a big recruitment drive,’’ he added.
“ We haven’t bean beating the drum. I’m a big believer that if you build a solid program and you put the rigours in place and you are teaching to a standard — and the standard is high — that you will attract students to the program.’’
Janelle Farrar, 16, works on a car in an automotive class at Colonel Gray High School. Farrar is contemplating a career in teaching such classes herself.
John Stephens of the P.E.I. Department of Education says the 18 skilled trades courses implemented this year in Island high schools should offer students an in-depth taste of the rigours in a career in carpentry, automotive or welding.