Trades training needed now

The illustration for a Maclean’s article says it all: A teen observed by a shop class teacher is examining an engine component wearing transparent latex gloves like a food handler.


The illustration for a Maclean’s article says it all: A teen  observed by a shop class teacher is examining an engine component wearing transparent latex gloves like a food handler.

I can imagine my mechanic snorting in derision. Before he touches my truck he wipes his grease-blackened hands on an oily rag dangling from his hip pocket.

Cynthia Reynolds’ article, titled “Why Your Teenager Can’t Use a Hammer”  quotes Barry Smith, who runs a Toronto area roofing company RoofSmith Canada.” They don’t know how to handle a tool properly,” Smith says. “They hold a hammer at the top instead of the bottom, so it takes four swings instead of one to get a nail in. They don’t know how to read the short lines on a tape measure and they’ve never used power tools, which makes you really cautious.”

Today’s teens spend so much time with TV or computer games, they have no conception of how mechanical things work, can’t even figure out which way to turn a screw driver to tighten or loosen a screw.

Farm kids show the most aptitude for trades, according to the technical supervisor at manufacturing company Argus Machines in Nisku, Alberta. John Wright says from years of looking after livestock, they’ve learned to show up on time, every day and they aren’t afraid to get dirty. These are the same reasons U.S. military veterans are in such demand.

After NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab noticed its new engineers couldn’t do practical problem solving the way its retirees could, it stopped hiring those who didn’t have mechanical hobbies in their youth.

Forty years ago boys tinkered with cars, repaired or rebuilt bicycles, helped around the farm operating small tractors doing daily chores. During the winter they built bird houses, magazine racks and bookshelves using hand saws and drills. Some boys even took apart watches and clocks, without benefit of magnetized screwdrivers. By their late teens, most boys had hands as blunt and brawny as their father’s, unlike so many of today’s teens with their concert violinist fingers.

Raised on computer games, battery-powered controls and endless texting, kids lack dexterity. Denied the chance to build small pieces into major pieces, they don’t possess fine motor coordination vital to working with pencils and scissors, even tying shoelaces. Velcro fasteners replace shoelaces.

We don’t help by filling toddlers’ playrooms and backyards with a rainbow of gigantic smooth plastic toys where a Lifesaver-sized plastic snap-in plug hides every fastener to protect the kid from an accidental scratch while stunting any curiosity he might have about what holds the toy together.

When my brothers were young, building Meccano projects engaged them for hours on winter days. And each Christmas and birthday they hoped for additional pieces. Once completed, these projects sat on a cabinet or bookshelf in satisfaction for a job well done.

With the Northwest Transmission Line coming, “There are thousands of short- and long-term jobs and billions of dollars in projects coming to this area but a report shows that we are not prepared,” says Rick Brouwer, Executive Director for the Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE).

The report confirms there are labour and training issues that need to be addressed quickly if locals are to cash in on job opportunities. Students are signing up for trades apprentice programs in record numbers spurred on by government incentives. But depending upon the province and the trade, some 40 to 75 per cent drop out before completing their program.

If that dropout ratio holds in Terrace, our young folk will miss out.