One school board is giving students a hands-on taste of trades as early as Grade 7, in the belief that early awareness of the value of the trades will help them make more informed career choices when they graduate.
Six Grade 7 students cluster around the car as the Auto Mechanics instructor explains and traces the flow of electricity from the power supply in the vehicle. Next they will complete a hands-on activity where they build their own circuits on two separate lighting boards. Meanwhile, the students visiting the Vocational Health program are taking part in a state-of-the-art simulated medical intervention – one that they might experience as professionals in a hospital.
“Lester’s shaking! I think he’s having a seizure!”
“Justin! Call for help! Put the bed down!”
In the Electro-technology department, students have the opportunity to test circuits, and Electricity teachers provide a visual interactive display using a Google app voice activation to control lights.
The students are naturally curious and these hands-on introductions to various skilled trades, experienced as part of the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s inaugural “Doing is Believing” tour, fascinated them. They walked away from the experience realizing that vocational careers are combining the use of the highest technology and equipment with a hands-on approach. “Super cool” and “I love this” are expressions we heard often from students during the tour.
Why introduce trades?
Introducing and exposing all students to the many skilled trade options as early as Grade 7 is embedded in the culture of the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Dorval, Quebec. It is a core belief that every student should understand the value of the trades and what programs are offered to ensure our students will be highly skilled and ready for the many challenges in their future careers.
For many years there has been a stigma that went along with the trades that only the “non-academic” or those that did not have the grades to enter university would consider the trades. In fact, there is a true shift occurring in the thinking about vocational programs; students in our schools who are the highest academic achievers are realizing the trades can offer “skills for life” and steady, well compensated, technical, creative and intellectually challenging and satisfying careers.
Partnering youth and vocational sectors
What better way to build curiosity and esteem for the trades than through action? The LBPSB Continuing Education department (Vocational Education) in partnership with the LBPSB Youth Sector, hosted its second annual Doing is Believing vocational centre tour in March 2020. The program offers every Grade 7 student in our school board (1,700 total) an opportunity to experience an insight into a variety of skilled trades in the following sectors: Beauty, Food Services, Health, Administration, Commerce and Computer Technology, Building and Public Works, Electro technology, Motorized Equipment Maintenance, and Arts. A unique aspect of the tour is that the Grade 7 teachers and administrators, many of whom have never visited a vocational centre, accompany the students. Pedagogical consultants and guidance counselors from the Youth Sector also lend a hand at the event and have their own opportunity to learn even more about the skilled trades offered.
It’s an important shift in post-secondary education planning for students, and very often parents. There can be a resistance or skepticism from parents about their children pursuing a vocational career instead of what they feel is a more valuable university education. We are working to inform parents and all stakeholders of the value of these valuable vocational careers through programs such as our Doing is Believing tour.
The Doing is Believing tour came about through partnerships built among trade schools, school boards, guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, and parents. It requires a huge commitment and planning on the part of our vocational centres to gear the program to a Grade 7 audience. All centres create a fun-filled hands-on learning experience for the younger students. The goal is that these students have a unique opportunity to experience a day in the life of a vocational centre. It is all about encouraging students to find their passion, work hard in school, and recognize the many educational choices they will have for careers in their future, whether that be skilled trades training, a technical program or university (see sidebar, “Quebec’s post-secondary system”). How can a student know what they want to be if they are not shown what they can be? One student, after visiting a mechanic on his tour, asked, “Why is a mechanic not a doctor? They have to fix a car or airplane to make it safe for passengers… and that’s a big responsibility.”
Maggie Soldano, Director of Continuing Education at LBPSB, and her team were very pleased with the success of the first annual Doing is Believing tour. “When I saw the faces of the Grade 7 students light up during the tours, I knew our goal was achieved. Not only did students take pictures to later share with their families, they also left the tour with knowledge of the many career opportunities offered through vocational education,” said Soldano.
Start small; keep growing
The Doing is Believing tour is a large event; however, the key is to start small. Building partnerships between early high school and nearby vocational trade schools is the way to start. Schools can begin by inviting teachers and students from the trade schools to speak in their schools and to begin building those relationships. If there are several high schools in proximity to a trade school, perhaps a career fair can be planned where trade schools can showcase their programs. Students registered in trade schools can have a very powerful message to younger students about the value of a career in a skilled trade. In fact, many students currently in trade schools have already gained a university degree but have returned to further their skills by enrolling in a trade. Spending the time to cement these partnerships will help to ensure buy-in and success for future more complex initiatives.
Quebec’s post-secondary system
Vocational education (skilled trades) are an integral part of education in Quebec. Many of the programs are a part of our public school system, with a DVS (Diploma of Vocational Studies) being attained in 6 to 18 months, depending on the program. Students may also pursue a technical three-year program in the Quebec Cégep system for programs such as Graphic Design, Medical Laboratory Technology, Police Technology, Business Administration, Youth and Adult Correction programs, and more. Alternatively, they may enter a two-year Cégep pre-university program leading on to a university degree.
Photo: Joan Zachariou, LBPSB