Equity, Pathways

Trading Up

As we finalized the articles for this issue of Education Canada, schools and campuses across the country had been closed for about a month to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It looked like students would not be back in class anytime soon. And we were wondering how much sense it made to ship boxes of magazines to empty buildings.

Those closed schools are the reason we are not printing our May issue. Like the teachers and profs who have turned to online technology to connect with their students, we have created an online-only magazine. We invite you to enjoy the PDF version as you “shelter in place.”

In this issue of Education Canada we focus on the skilled trades, and specifically on the K-12 system’s role in connecting students to trades training.

So here’s the dilemma. While I still devoutly believe in the value of a liberal arts education, our world is full of highly educated young adults working precarious minimum-wage service jobs because that’s all they could find. Many of them never even considered skilled trades. Probably nobody ever suggested that they were worth looking into. Some students may have even been steered away from trades when they expressed interest.

Meanwhile, well paying, challenging, steady jobs are going unfilled in many trades sectors. While it’s not up to K-12 schools to qualify students for a trade, we think we could be doing a better job of introducing them to the trades as a desirable career path. We also need more options that allow secondary students to “try before they buy” (and ideally earn credits at the same time), and more fluid pathways that allow students to combine academic and skills-based training.

In our theme section, two innovative Canadian programs that give high schools students a great head start in trades (“TAP into Trades, p. 14, and “Youth Train in Trades,” p. 22) share how they fill that gap. And looking at the bigger picture, David Livingstone and Milosh Raykov (p. 18) discuss the need for expanded apprenticeship programs and better linkages between our education and apprenticeship systems. Paul Stastny (p. 25) examines our other big labour need – digital technology skills – and how the digitizing of many trades creates new opportunities, while Alison Taylor (on our website) argues for experiential and work-integrated learning programs as a means of breaking down “the binary between vocational and professional education.”

Perhaps it comes down to that old ideal of a “well-rounded education.” Shouldn’t an education include learning how to do things as well as how to know things? And can’t we, as Taylor suggests, educate students in a way that prepares them for both democratic citizenship and employability?

Photo: Dave Donald

First published in Education Canada, June 2020

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Holly Bennett

Holly Bennett

English Editor of Education Canada.

Holly Bennett is the English Editor of Education Canada.

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