Sault College, Employers Say Training, Jobs Available in Skilled Occupations

Skilled workers retiring; educators say it is important to remove the stigma attached to professions

Efforts to attract local people to the skilled professions continue.

Sault College hosted representatives from several major local employers and guided them through the school’s skilled trade labs on Wednesday.

Representatives from Algoma Steel, Tenaris Algoma Tubes, Sault Foundry, PUC Services, China Steel, Rector Machine Works, Arauco and others attended and agreed with Sault College officials that there is a shortage of skilled craftsmen and the need to informing young people – or those opting for a second career – that skilled occupations are a valuable option.

Michael Mannarino, senior human resources representative for Algoma Steel, said the steel plant is in need of new skilled craftsmen due to a number of retirements expected over the next five years.

Both Mannarino and Britta Allen, Industrial Relations and Training Senior Manager at Tenaris, said young people should know that cleaner technology and robotics have shifted their factories from the kind of harsh work environment their grandfathers knew.

Andrew Sarlo, chairman and owner of S. & T. Group, said children as young as those in grades 7 and 8 should now know about the opportunities in skilled occupations.

“Trade is a viable calling for the future,” Sarlo said.

Sarlo pointed out that many newly skilled craftsmen start working in their late 20s, leading to a shortage of workers as the elderly retire.

“They don’t start young enough … we have to go faster.”

Larry Girardi, City of Sault Ste. Marie, deputy collective labor agreement for Public Works and Engineering Services, said the city needs eight to ten professionally trained craftsmen.

Tanya Running, Sault College’s Strategic Enrollment Manager for Domestic Recruitment, urged employers to spread the word throughout the community that quality education is available in skilled occupations from experienced instructors at Sault College.

“It is challenging to communicate that skilled occupations are a career option worth considering,” said David Orazietti, Sault College Dean of Aviation, Trades and Technology, Natural Environment and Business.

“I think it’s so fundamentally important to get the message across to young people and their parents in our community that there are high paying jobs available in Sault Ste. Marie and Sault College is a great way to get there,” Orazietti told SooToday.

There are reasons behind the shortage of skilled craftsmen, educators say.

“Part of that is the expectation that a young person or their parents should expect them to go to university. Interestingly, the number of individuals who attend college and then go on to college continues to rise. About 15 percent of all university graduates now come to university to receive specific training in a particular area to improve their employment opportunities,” Orazietti said.

Some students who graduate from skilled trade programs through college then go on to a college program, such as the one at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, to earn an engineering degree.

“There’s the historical stigma of occupations,” Orazietti said.

“Some people think these are tough, dirty jobs that pay poorly and that’s definitely not the case. These are well-paid jobs, often in very clean retail environments. They’re not that far from some office environments in terms of the way they’re laid out, with some of the latest state-of-the-art technology in our robotics lab and electrical labs, so I think it’s part of that is breaking the barriers of the mindset that is somewhat historic about how people practice the skilled trade.”

“I think it’s starting to change. It has been changing for the past ten years or more and it will continue to change. I believe that as people become more aware and see the opportunity, these are real jobs that pay very well with in many cases good benefits, that you can easily support a family and have a very good quality of life. There are jobs in our community, so if you’re in Sault Ste. Marie, where we have a high quality of life, the professions are a great job opportunity,” Orazietti said.

There are about 300 students in the college’s vocational training programs for post-secondary students and about 500 students who go through college annually, Orazietti said.

There is still room for more.

“We can certainly accommodate more than a thousand. There are spots available and it’s not too late to apply,” said Orazietti.

“I’d say the word is getting out. We’ve been working diligently and people are starting to listen,” said Steve Burmaster, Co-op/Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program Pathways Coordinator at the Algoma District School Board.

“Parents are great influencers. They were an audience that was hard to reach, but we worked to reach parents and students at all levels, primary and secondary. This year we related about 180 students on co-op internships to the skilled trade and we are on track to sign 50 of those for high school apprenticeships so they are graduating high school already a registered apprentice, already connected with employers, earning a paycheck… we work through guidance counselors to get the message out,” Burmaster said.

Both post-secondary and apprenticeship students receive training at Sault College before entering employment.

“The gold collar careers are the skilled professions where the people make phenomenal amounts of money. That stigma is still kind of there, but it’s changing because people can see they can make $150,000 with a job and the technology is phenomenal,” Burmaster said.

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