Addressing the Skills Shortage through Secondary Trades Education (2014)



British Columbia is expected to experience a significant shortage in skilled workers by 2018. A source of this shortage is the lack of ability for British Columbian students to gain access to trades training at a secondary level. The Ministry of Education’s Revised Service Plan for 2013/2014 – 2015/2016 states that “with an aging population and shrinking workforce, British Columbia is facing skills shortages in its labour market, particularly in high-skill occupations and high-growth industries, putting added pressure on B.C. graduates. Our education system was designed in an earlier century and cannot meet the challenges students are facing now, or those that they will face in the future.”(1) Students being educated under the current education system do not see trades as a possible career path. The acknowledgement of the issues with our current education system is an important first step in making necessary changes to ensure the economic success of BC and its students. With over one million job openings projected by 2020, the provincial government needs to be doing everything it can to provide an education that allows BC students to take advantage of those jobs.(2)

The goal of the Ministry of Education is to increase the number of K-12 students enrolling in trades programs by 50 percent. The Ministry is attempting to meet that goal by “informing school career counsellors, teachers, educators, parents, and students about the merits of working in the trades; increasing the number of educators able to provide skills training in secondary schools; encouraging school districts to raise the profile of technical training and careers in trades, and to address capacity issues by working with public post-secondary institutions and industry to meet the needs of their community; offering students more opportunities for dual credit skills training with post-secondary institutions, as well as first-level industry certifications with industries; promoting pathways that help students explore their interest in trades and technical occupations, and identify the courses and certifications they need to get there; and, inviting employers to help shape new curriculum and graduation requirements.”(3) While these are all positive changes to our current education system, they do not fundamentally change the curriculum to reflect the fundamental changes in the economic outlook for B.C. In the recently published 2014 provincial budget, there are no new programs or initiatives aimed at trades training for secondary education institutions. Without providing the funds necessary to facilitate a 50 percent increase in trades’ enrollment at the K-12 level, the provincial government is not fully committing to its own mandate.

According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’ Top 10 Barriers to Competitiveness, “Social biases and education policy are affecting the pool of entrants into skilled trades and science-based occupations. The chronic shortage of highly qualified and skilled trade professionals stems from a social bias against the skilled trades as occupations.”(4) Part of the social bias against trades occupations stems from the current education system’s focus on traditional post-secondary education institutions, rather than alternatives such as trades facilities and technical institutions. Current graduation requirements for secondary students do not offer the flexibility to enroll in trades programs, unless a student is enrolled in a joint credit program, which has limited availability due to the high demand for these seats. This need for flexibility is reflected in the Ministry of Education’s report on transforming B.C.’s graduation requirements.(5)The current secondary education system is failing students through its inability to offer them an education that will help them be successful and productive members of a transitioning B.C. economy. 

While there have been improvements in trades education at the post-secondary level, without a basis of trades education in secondary institutions, students will continue to graduate without the skills needed to be successful in today’s workforce. The Discover Trades BC website is an important tool in communicating the opportunities available to students, but much like the changes mentioned above, it does not provide satisfactory resources to secondary schools to encourage students to participate in trades programs. Schools participating in the Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training (ACE IT) program have seen sporadic grants from the provincial government and Skills Canada BC, but the temporary nature of short term grants prevents trades training from being ingrained in the secondary curriculum of the participating schools. In order for that to happen, the province must commit to long term funding for expanded trades education in B.C.’s secondary schools.

Current Challenges to Trades Education

With B.C.’s rapidly aging demographics and a declining birthrate, the economic future of the province hinges on training the population to take on the jobs that are already here, and more importantly, future jobs that will require specialized training. The province has struggled to encourage students to enroll into trades programs, resulting in the current and swiftly growing skills shortage. The root of this problem lies in our education system. The current secondary education system guides students into primarily academic careers, rather than introducing them to careers in trades where trained workers are desperately needed.

Increasing Trades Curriculum in Secondary Schools

The first step towards addressing the skills shortage through education is to expand the scope of the trades curriculum in public secondary schools. The lack of funding for trades education has resulted in fewer spots available for trades students, less equipment for students to train on, and less adequately trained trades teachers. Increasing funding for these three areas will encourage enrollment in trades at the secondary level, bridging students into post-secondary trades training and eventually, long-term careers in trades. 

Development of Technical Secondary Schools

In addition to growing trades facilities and curriculum in public secondary schools, an important part of addressing the skills shortage is to establish more technical secondary schools. This will create more avenues for students to enroll in trades education through new technical schools or converting select current traditional schools into technical schools. These technical schools, such as Samuel Roberts Technical Secondary School (SRT) in Maple Ridge, B.C., combine the advantages of a comprehensive high school education with the benefit of marketable job skills and post-secondary credits. The model under which SRT operates provides students with the following advantages:

  • Free tuition for college and/or technical training;
  • Early admission to post-secondary studies;
  • Dual credits – career and technical program courses are reported to the Ministry of Education for high school credits as well as to the college;
  • A “hands on” learning environment;
  • Focusing on a particular career path where you have a strong interest or passion usually translates to better grades and improved self-confidence;
  • Supervised work experience in related career program;
  • Employment opportunities upon completion;
  • Secondary apprenticeship opportunities – earn hours towards trade certifications, i.e. Certificate of QualificationRed Seal, or Journeyman;
  • A Secondary School Apprenticeship Scholarship – $1,000.00; and
  • Graduate from a post-secondary college certificate program and high school concurrently.(6)

Technical secondary schools are an ideal way to address the gap between traditional curriculums and the modern workforce. Technical-focused secondary schools will also address the aforementioned social bias against trades careers by increasing the visibility and desirability of trades training.

Secondary and Post-Secondary Education Partnership

With the growth of trades programs and technical schools, a closer relationship between secondary and post-secondary institutions will be necessary to stream students into and through trades programs. Students who are able to see a clear path from their high school education, through post-secondary training and into a career are more likely to be successful. Collaboration between secondary and post-secondary institutions is needed to ensure that courses and credits are transferrable, and that secondary students in specific trades training courses are able to access seats in corresponding post-secondary trades training courses. 

Industry Collaboration for Curriculum and Training

An important collaborator in creating a better educated, better trained workforce is the Industry Training Authority (ITA). Their assistance, input and collaboration on the creation of a secondary trades curriculum will be essential to the success of students. With cooperation from the ITA, curriculums could be better integrated into apprenticeships and future employment for students.

The ITA is also an important source of training for trades educators at the post-secondary level. Teachers who have the opportunity to take part in training with the ITA will be able to better serve trades students. By creating appropriate infrastructure for this system to occur, the provincial government will facilitate more informed teachers in trades classrooms, and a stronger partnership between industry, the province, and our schools.

Business Representation in Current Education Review

These fundamental changes to education are necessary to lessen the effects of the skills shortage on the B.C. economy. Students, businesses and industry, as a whole, are affected by the lack of skilled workers. As such, it is critical that the Chamber be involved in the current review of secondary education and future reviews of education policies. The Chamber represents the interests of B.C.’s business communities, and by including their input in the education policy review, the provincial government will be including the vital input of businesses across B.C.


That the provincial government:

  1. increase the scope of trades curriculum in all public secondary institutions, including adding more space to classes, more trades curriculum options and increasing the number of qualified trades teachers;

  2. establish more technical secondary schools by converting select public secondary schools, or creating new schools where appropriate, using current successful technical school models;

  3. create appropriate infrastructure between secondary school trades curriculum, technical secondary schools, and post-secondary trades institutions to facilitate a streamlined process for students to move through their education into trades careers;

  4. create appropriate infrastructure to integrate trades people as educators in secondary institutions and to educate current teachers employed as trades educators; and 

  5. involve the Chamber in the current and future review of secondary education policy as representatives of B.C. businesses.


(1) Ministry of Education Revised Service Plan 2013/2014 – 2015/2016, page 8

(2) British Columbia Labour Market Outlook, 2010 – 2020, Work BC, page 2

(3) Ministry of Education Revised Service Plan 2013/2014 – 2015/2016, page 9

(4) Top 10 Barriers to Competitiveness, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce. 2014

(5) Transforming BC’s Graduation Requirements: Reports from Fall 2012 Consultation Sessions, Ministry of Education, January 2013, page 5

(6) Samuel Roberts Technical Secondary School,