For 39-year-old Erin Gouin, the decision to earn a trade came after a decade of working minimum wage jobs, and struggling to get ahead. Her decision to train as an industrial mechanic millwright has opened doors for her, and she’s now in her third-year working with automobile company Stellantis in Windsor. Not only has the career shift allowed her to make more money, she’s also developing new skills.
“When you’re working as an apprentice, you get to not only learn on the job and start applying that skillset immediately,” Gouin says. “But every time I return back from school, I’m so excited to immediately implement everything that I’ve learned in the last eight weeks.”
Demand for skilled trade labour is high, with an estimated 256,000 positions needed throughout Canada in the next five years. These include everything from cooks to industrial electricians and mechanics, to painters and welders.
It may seem like a great time to enter the trades field but each field has its own ups and downs. Each comes with different educational and apprenticeship requirements. While there’s a huge demand for certain trades, a looming recession could impact job prospects. We will explore these options to help you make a decision on whether the time and effort required is still worth the investment.
Demand for trades
The trades field covers a wide variety of industries including:
No matter where you join, the stigma surrounding trades appears to be declining compared to previous decades, says Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444. Parents are open to encouraging their children to pursue an apprenticeship over an undergraduate degree.
“The stereotype of skilled trades people being unable to make it into university has really gone to the wayside,” Cassidy says.
The federal government is also encouraging more people to pursue a career in the trades. In January 2022, they launched a campaign to promote skilled trades, which includes nearly $1 billion in funding for apprenticeships and grants. The initiative was born out of the anticipated demand for trade jobs since it is expected that up to 700,000 trade workers are expected to retire by 2028.
According to Cassidy, trades such as construction are attracting more skilled workers from other industries.
“They’re making a lot more money on the outside than they would be working on the inside [with a white-collar job],” Cassidy says, adding that other popular industries include the energy and auto sector.
However, some trends suggest that this may not last forever and industries like construction may fluctuate depending on the economy. In September, Statistics Canada reported 28,000 layoffs for workers in construction.
However, Statistic Canada reports that there was positive job growth in construction in January, following a decrease in November. Ontario and Alberta notably increased by 16,000 and 13,000 employees respectively. Whether the construction industry continues to grow remains to be seen and will be partially dependent on the state of the economy.
Apprenticeships vs tuition
For Gouin — who did half of an English literature program before pursuing her apprenticeship — the cost of trade school was much cheaper than university tuition. An undergraduate student can expect to spend an average of $6,834 for the 2022/2023 academic year.
Apprenticeships are generally much cheaper. Centennial College, for example, offers a sample average of $1,800 to $2,000 for one academic year. The welding and fabrication techniques program at Algonquin College is estimated at about $6,700 total for the three semester program. Some co-op and apprenticeship placements may also have an additional fee.
Some apprenticeships may require apprentices to source their own tools but some provinces, like Ontario, offer a tool grant, to help alleviate costs.
There are also federal grants that provide financial aid. If you are part of certain demographics you may be eligible for funding that’s meant to provide diversity among applicants.
“There’s also grants that they offer after each year of completing a year of apprenticeship,” Gouin says.
If you have paid for your tools you will want to keep your receipts during tax season so you can file your equipment as business expenses.
Prospects and pay
While you may think a trade involves a lot of manual labour. That isn’t always the case. Cassidy says that there are opportunities for roles like becoming a skills teacher for a college or becoming a manager for a shop.