For generations, parents have encouraged their children to go to college, get a stable job, start a family, and save for retirement. However, the emphasis has often been on professional careers and university degrees rather than on jobs in the trades. But these days, blue collar work is making a comeback as both entities like Build Force and the Government of Alberta, work to engage youth in pursuing construction careers – not only as engineers, but as tradespeople.

While many youth tend to gravitate towards careers in technology, others are drawn to the art of craftsmanship and the current culture that focuses on local and handmade. Sociologist Richard Sennett, in his book The Craftsman, argues that “skilled manual labour – or indeed any craft – is one path to a fulfilling life.” With pop culture “reasserting the value of the handmade over the machine-made,” today’s youth are veering away from technology and becoming interested in making and building things with their own hands.

The success of programs like the Mind Over Metal Welding Camp demonstrate that youth are interested in pursuing careers in the Alberta construction industry.

Joel Thompson calls this “experiential learning” and argues that “experiential learning engages students in critical thinking, problem solving and decision making in contexts that are personally relevant to them. This approach to learning also involves making opportunities for debriefing and consolidation of ideas and skills through feedback, reflection, and the application of the ideas and skills to new situations.

According to Sarah Watts-Rynard, the Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, high school students are “expressing the value of hands-on learning, the importance of doing work you enjoy, and respect for the contribution of tradespeople to society.”  A career in the trades is not a fallback plan, but a path that requires as much dedication and hard work as pursuing a professional career.

Society’s renewed appreciation for skilled manual labour is a welcome step towards inspiring youth to seek careers in the trades, and comes at a crucial time as Canada’s construction population is aging. Currently, the average construction worker is 41 years-old, meaning that in the next decade, there will be a labour shortage for skilled workers as many experienced tradespeople approach retirement. Even now, there are 24 trades across Canada facing labour shortages; engaging youth in construction career planning is essential to addressing these concerns.

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