High school apprenticeships in the Comox Valley

The SSA program helps high school students transition into a number of trades.

Connor Stewart

They ‘earn while they learn’ — and often land a job in the process.

Kyle Steven did just that. In high school during the SD71 Secondary School Apprenticeship, he learned the ropes while working at Reliable Auto Body in Courtenay, earning money and school credits in the process. He has passed the Red Seal exam — which allows tradespeople to work anywhere in Canada — and is winding up his apprenticeship.

“Waiting for six or 700 more hours, just a few months worth of work,” Steven said. “I’ve been here a little over 3-1/2 years. It’s a great shop.”

The SSA program helps high school students transition into a number of trades, including auto service, hair styling and cooking. In April, 12 Comox Valley grads received $1,000 awards, on top of wages earned while apprenticing (students must be paid at least minimum wage). The $1,000 is something of an incentive to ensure students move directly into their given trade.

“It just gives them that jump start,” program co-ordinator Murray Shold said. “The experience they get while they’re doing their actual trades program is invaluable.”

Auto service students, for example, spend each Friday at the job site.

“They’re in high school but they’re also in college. Both count. When they get out of high school, they have a trade in the pocket. They’re very valuable employees.”

Shold is a retired teacher who spent a large part of his career in the Valley. Two years ago, he approached SD71 and suggested a dedicated part-time position would improve the numbers in the SSA program. At the time, the district had two SSA students in progress. Then-superintendent Sherry Elwood liked the idea and agreed to try the program for a year. Last year, there were 18 apprentices. This year, the number is at 31 and climbing. There are also 49 sponsor employers in the database.

“More and more people are hearing about it,” Shold said. “Right now, construction companies are contacting us.”

It’s a proverbial ‘win-win’ situation: Employers are being supplied with trained young people, students are on track to be Red Seal journey persons by age 21, and the Industry Training Authority mandate of increasing trades numbers in B.C. is being met. Moreover, the ITA provided SD71 with a grant to fund the part-time co-ordinator position.

“I’m no cost to the district,” Shold said. “All the money that comes in goes into the careers department, so that we can keep the ball rolling…We’re sort of self-supporting.”

Ryan Pederson, a former student of Shold’s who is now a manager at Reliable, agrees the program has been “hugely beneficial.”

“It’s great for the industry,” he said, noting the average auto collision tech is in the 35- to 40-year age bracket. “There hasn’t been anybody coming into the trade for so long because of everything going on with the oil patch…We’re lucky that we have two of those guys (Kyle Steven and Connor Stewart) that we were able to hire straight on. Our shop is relatively young compared to most. We had ads running across the country for months, and we could not get a resume in. The workforce just isn’t what it used to be to find people that have any experience. So if you have a chance to grow them internally, take it and run with it.

“I think it’s great for these young guys to have that opportunity,” added Pederson, noting Reliable has apprenticed girls as well. “Within four years out of school, they’re going to be journeymen, and they’re probably going to be making $70, $80,000 a year.”

Another sponsor employer is Locals Restaurant, which is giving its third SSA student a taste of reality.

“I think it’s a great way for young people to get into the industry,” owner/chef Ronald St. Pierre said, noting the lack of options for those who are not academically inclined. “I think that giving young people an option is tremendously beneficial…It demands some time and effort, of course, but it’s important for employers to have that frame of mind to be involved in the education of the people in the trade that you are. If you’re just hoping to have somebody coming to you always with certification, eventually the well’s going to dry up.”

St. Pierre feels the SSA program could use a little more focus to ensure students receive more encouragement and support to pursue the second and third levels of their chosen trade at a post-secondary school.

“It would be interesting to see if they do put an incentive, how many more (students) would continue, instead of just getting the certification for Level 1 and calling it a day,” he said.

For more program information, visit www.sd71.bc.ca, click on the ACE IT Career Resources icon and select SSA.

 

This year, 12 awards were presented to the following 2015 grads, with sponsor employer in brackets:

Terry Wasiliew (Rick Finney Plumbing)

Ryan Yeomans (AK Timber)

Justin Streeton (M & TB Electric)

Braden Phillips (Waverley Hotel)

Brook-Lyne Macmillan (Martine’s Bistro)

Zlatan Bakovjev (Dale’s Plumbing & Mechanical)

Connor Stewart (Reliable Auto Body)

Ben Langille (Agius Builders)

Braden Austin (D&D Welding)

Domonic Dietrich (Dietrich Electric)

Michael Benisky (Griffith Homes)

Colin Dixon (Muchalat Construction)

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