Rethinking trades training

Statistics in this week’s paper raise some alarming numbers about the high school drop-out rate in the Lakes District.

Statistics in this week’s paper raise some alarming numbers about the high school drop-out rate in the Lakes District.

A recent Regional District of Bulkley Nechako skills gap analysis (Lakes District News Nov. 6, 2013) also reported the drop-out rate to be a particular employment challenge in the region.

That’s not new information, parents have been telling their kids to stay in school for as long as parents have been telling their kids what to do.

Options after dropping out of high school, or for those who don’t look for trades, college or university training after high school, are getting fewer, and those prospects don’t show promise of improving.

We want to look at a stat like almost half of Burns Lake 18 year-old youth not finishing high school, and read that as a criticism of kids these days.  Why don’t they stay in school and get a trade?

Here’s a different question.  Why should they have to stay in school to get a trade? There are internationally recognized apprenticeship programs taking young men and women into meaningful, well-paid, career-track programs well before what we recognize as high school graduation age.

We expect teenagers to finish a high school program largely structured as a university feeder system. Once they’re finished with that, we tell them to go back to school to qualify to start an apprenticeship.

This approach to cultivating young trades people is broken, and it breaks many young people.

If a person wants to make a commitment to a skilled trade, they shouldn’t be stuck in an educational stream that postpones getting on with it. Let them begin their qualifications earlier, let them be productive young men and women earlier.

There is no reason why a 16 or 17 year old shouldn’t be ready for the kind of pre-apprentice classes offered by the College of New Caledonia. They don’t have to leave high school – there are important social dynamics to high school – but maybe there could be integration between college apprenticeship training and high school education.

It’s important that kids here have the same opportunities to continue on to university education as kids in larger centres, and they do.

Lakes District Secondary School produces graduates equal to larger high schools in terms of intelligence, aptitude and readiness for further college or university education. That part of the equation is solved.

But it’s just as important that students here have an education system in place that recognizes a number of factors separating the life experience of youth in Northern B.C. from the experience of youth elsewhere.

Youth in the North, if they’re going stay up North, are roughly 2.5 times more likely to derive their eventual household income from the resource sector and related trades.

If we could acknowledge that fact in our education system and not create insufferable delays for young people to enter apprenticeships, we would do two things: we’d substantively address the constant complaint of a lack of skilled trades in the north, and – more importantly – we’d give many youth a greater sense of hope for their future.

Dropping out of high school shouldn’t be looked at as simply a failure on the student’s part. We have a responsibility to youth, and  high local drop-out rate says something about our success in living up to that responsibility.

A young person’s hope is grounded in immediacy, not in the vague promise that things get better once they finish high school, and then only after they go to college.



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