Finding Fulfillment in the Skilled Trades

Finding Fulfillment in the Skilled Trades
Posted on 05/03/2021

Toronto Star

Written by: Stephanie Orford

October 3, 2020

A typical day starts early for Benjamin Valliquette — an entrepreneur, a carpenter and a construction manager. First it’s breakfast with his wife and two young kids, then it’s off to the construction site.

Work there usually starts with a team meeting. “In the morning huddle you talk about what you got done yesterday, what are you going to do today and what you need from others to succeed,” he says. “That’s the magic of getting into this industry — it’s 100 per cent a team sport.”

Opportunities abound in the skilled trades. “Ontario is facing a looming crisis: There will soon be more jobs in the trades than people to fill them,” says Ontario Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton. “As a government, we’re tackling this problem head-on.”

McNaughton recently announced $43 million in provincial funding to help young people from Grade 1 and up learn how they can find a career in the skilled trades. “When kids are growing up … they need to know how to enter the skilled trades,” he says.

The pandemic has made it more difficult to predict the labour market and what kinds of opportunities might lie on the horizon, says McNaughton.

However, certain jobs are currently in high demand, including customer service representatives, cooks, transport truck drivers, construction trade helpers, automotive service technicians, IT support technicians, industrial engineering and manufacturing technologists, bakers, teachers, educational assistants, painters and plumbers.

People who work in the skilled trades make an annual salary 25 per cent higher than the average Canadian salary, according to the Canadian Construction Association. On average, an electrician makes $62,000 per year.

No matter which trade you choose, “the learning never stops,” says Valliquette. The industry is always evolving and incorporating new technologies.

“If you show an interest in getting trained in [a specific skillset], the super or your foreman will support you in that,” he says. “You can go anywhere once you become a skilled [tradesperson]. There are so many educational bridging opportunities.”

Valliquette studied carpentry, building restoration, construction engineering and construction science and management at George Brown College and is now doing his executive MBA at Northwestern University and York University.

A skilled trade can also take you far beyond a job in construction, says Valliquette. The entrepreneur, carpenter and construction manager forged his own path in the skilled trades, using these skillsets as a springboard for his own goals.

Following his passion for music, he and an old friend fulfilled their childhood dream of creating a music studio. Using Valliquette’s construction expertise, they built Lynx Music, a “modern music conservatory” in downtown Toronto with music facilities available for people of all ages and skill levels.

“Construction is where art and science meet,” Valliquette says.

Volunteer in the skilled trades

Skilled tradespeople have specialized skills they can use to give back to their communities. Before Valliquette started his skilled trades education at George Brown College, he volunteered in the Middle East and Africa, providing humanitarian relief.

“I realized that, because we have this privilege here … we should do everything we can do to help others,” he says. “I thought that following my heart and also this trade would be a way that I could help people.”

Valliquette says people with a skilled trade can volunteer to bring deeper satisfaction to their work. Volunteering could be as simple as helping an elderly couple in your neighbourhood with yard work or volunteering at the local library to show kids how to make candleholders, says Valliquette, who has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and numerous other community projects.

“For me, a key ingredient is that social community element to my projects,” he says.

Volunteering can help people in the skilled trades develop their trade-specific skillsets as well as their project management and leadership skills. It can also help those who are just finding their niche to discover what kind of work they like best.

It’s also an opportunity for a skilled tradesperson or student to develop rewarding lifelong social and professional connections. “Once you get into the trades, there’s just so many pathways to help people,” says Valliquette. “Start with where your passion is.”

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