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TRADING PLACES :

University education isn't for everyone, say young apprentices

By Melanie Patten

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Published on November 7, 2009

The Chronicle Herald

HALIFAX _ At 15, Krista Lindsay decided she'd had enough of Grade 10.

Disinterested in school and trapped in a cycle of skipping classes, getting suspended and apologizing to the principal, her Halifax high school finally decided it was done, too. ``Eventually I just wasn't allowed back in and that was it,'' says Lindsay, now 19.  ``I convinced myself that I'd be able to find work easily.''

Two years later, living with her parents and unhappy that her only job prospects were behind a fast food counter, Lindsay learned about a skilled trades apprenticeship for young people who are eager to get out working but don't necessarily see themselves on a university campus.

``Workit Youth Apprenticeship,'' a provincial initiative launched in 2005, allows youth between 16 and 20 to become certified in one of more than 60 designated trades in Nova Scotia, including plumbing, carpentry and electrical. Depending on the trade, youth apprentices can expect to log about 8,000 hours of paid work experience, develop trade-related skills and complete a technical component at a Nova Scotia Community College campus before writing a certification exam.

Youth apprentices who are in high school can work toward their certification while they earn their Grade 12 diploma. ``Most students know a lot about going to university or college where you pay for your program and then you go out and find employment,'' says Lisa Frizzell, a youth apprenticeship co-ordinator. ``Apprenticeship is completely opposite in the sense that you're working_ you're earning while you're learning _ and you end up leaving those programs with much less debt.''

Before becoming a youth apprentice, Lindsay says she didn't enjoy high school ``because it didn't create that link between school and a job.''  But with an enjoyable career nowhere in sight, Lindsay recognized it was time to make a change. She contacted her old high school and was permitted to enrol in its co-op program, which placed her at a manufacturing company. The placement soon led to a youth apprenticeship.

Lindsay, who's now balancing Grade 12 studies and training to become a machinist, describes her career choice as ``a perfect fit.''  ``I like the technicality of it,'' says Lindsay, who has about three years left in her apprenticeship. ``You have to be very precise with what you're doing and I love making things.''

The idea of potentially shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a university education never appealed to CJ Hubley, a Grade 12 student in the Chester Basin area west of Halifax. ``I always knew that I wasn't going to go to university because it was way too much money,'' says Hubley, 17. ``It's just like school, too much studying.''

Hubley, who joined the apprenticeship program last year in hopes of becoming a mechanic, works at an auto repair shop for a few hours every day after school. ``My boss says I'm learning something new every day,'' he says. ``I'm getting really good.''

Though the choice to pursue a trade might seem obvious to some, Frizzell says young people have had to battle misconceptions and pressure from some parents who believe university is the best route to take. ``There has been some negative perceptions about pursuing a career in the trades,'' she says. ``That's slowly changing and part of that probably has to do with the fact that we do have a shortage in many of the trades across the country.'' For example, Frizzell says the average age of bricklayers in Nova Scotia is high, but there aren't enough young people to fill the void left by retiring workers.

Also undergoing a gradual change, she says, is the notion that trades are best suited to men. There are about 400 registered youth apprentices in Nova Scotia, but Lindsay is the first female to enrol at the high school level. There are only a handful of other women in the program. ``I think women might be intimidated by it,'' says Lindsay. ``I'd like to set a good example that any woman can do any career they want as long as they want to do it.''

Frizzell says it's important for all young people to realize they have choices. ``When I speak to students, I say 'You have to find out what works best for you,''' she says. ``The trades aren't for everyone either, however, it is an option.''

           

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