For Steve Clegg, school came easy.
The Chilliwack woodworker got consistent As and Bs all the way through. But academics didn’t thrill him.
Clegg, 27, has been messing around in wood shops since he was a toddler. His dad was a hobby woodman, and the two spent hours creating knick knacks. Now, he’s making a career of it.
After discovering he wasn’t suited for a desk job, Clegg, a BCIT business graduate, started Clegg Woodcrafts in Ryder Lake two years ago. His business, which recently entered the international market, utilizes salvaged wood to create free form sculptures, plaques, and unique household items such as night tables, jewelry stands, cutting boards and more.
Some of the projects and workarounds he learned in his Grade 8 industrial education class at Mt. Slesse middle school, he still uses today.
“My first project in [Eric Munshaw’s] class was a cutting board,” said Clegg. “I asked if I could do something different, and Eric looked at me with a huge grin on his face.”
Clegg produced a non-linear cutting board that featured two different types of wood.
“It was the first cutting board I ever made, and now it’s one of my best sellers,” he said.
“Having taken that class, it gave me something to fall back on.”
By offering industrial education and trades courses in B.C., schools are giving a wider spectrum of students opportunities for success.
In Chilliwack, the secondary school apprenticeship program (SSA) currently has 160 students enrolled, a figure that continually increases by approximately 12 new students every month.
The SSA program enables students 15 years or older to register as an apprentice and receive credits towards graduation through work experience hours.
Since starting in 1995, well over 1,000 Chilliwack students have completed the program.
While some are more academically inclined like Clegg was, many are not.
“These are kids who like working with their hands; they’re definitely hands-on learners,” said Garry Wall, retired SSA coordinator, who started Chilliwack’s program.
“Without trades [in school], you’d have a bunch of dropouts.”
Not only are these courses enabling more students to be successful in school, they’re also preparing the future workforce and boosting the local economy.
Last year 15 SSA welding students were hired by Tycrop Manufacturing in Rosedale right out of graduation. Several students have also been offered part-time jobs at Tycrop. Currently there are 18 SSA students completing their Level 1 technical training in welding; by graduation, they will be fully employable. As well, several SSA students split their school day with their work day, going to school in the morning, and then working in the afternoon.
“These kids are becoming taxpayers at a really young age,” said Wall. “A kid that’s working in the trades starts paying taxes right at 16 or 17 already – they’re contributing to society big time.”
For Tom Sellmer, owner of Chilliwack Pro Auto Care, industrial ed classes in high school were his saving grace.
“I hated school,” said Sellmer, a 1984 Sardis secondary graduate.
Sitting through a math, social studies, science class was like sitting through a root canal. But as soon as he stepped foot in the metalwork shop, his mind opened to the possibilities around him.
Skilled trades, however, are often viewed as a lesser career choice, something only “non-smart” people go into.
“When I was in school, it was taboo not to go to university,” said Sellmer. “The school counsellor kept drilling into my head that if I didn’t take certain academic courses, I wouldn’t amount to anything.”
He proved the counsellor wrong.
Sellmer apprenticed at Chilliwack Pro Auto Care after graduation. By 1989, he was managing the shop, and by 1995, he was the owner.
It’s a career, he said, that not only challenges him physically, but also intellectually.
“The human body hasn’t changed in how many years, but a vehicle changes every day. The technology is forever changing and you have to stay on top of that or else you’ll become a dinosaur – you’re always learning,” he said.
“I love my career. It’s a good living; it’s a great living. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Skilled trades in Canada are in high demand.
According to the Skilled Trades, A Career You Can Build On website, which is funded by the Canadian government, it is estimated that by 2020 Canada will be short one million workers due to lower birth rates and an aging population. Over the next two decades, 40 per cent of new jobs will be in skilled trades.
It is believed industrial education in schools will help fill that need.
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