The creation of a new advisory committee to lay the groundwork for a national campaign to promote the skilled trades as a career of choice is a massive win and a step in the right direction, say some of its members.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Nova Scotia Aug. 16. As part of Budget 2019, the federal government announced $6 million over two years to create a national campaign to encourage apprenticeships and promote skilled trades to underrepresented groups.
Mandy Rennehan, a trade industry ambassador and founder and CEO of Freshco, a Canadian reconstruction and retail maintenance company, has not only been named to the committee, she helped create it. She pitched the idea to the Trudeau government when she was invited to speak at the annual cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke, Que. in January.
“I said ‘listen we need a national campaign and I need some help,’ ” said Rennehan, who is known within the industry as “the Blue Collar CEO” for her ability to navigate between the white and blue collar worlds.
“I told them at the end of the day we’ve got amazing schools, amazing organizations, we’ve got a lot of the pillars in place that we need to be able to mobilize a lot more people to picking a trade as a career.”
Other advisory committee members include Jamie McMillan, ironworker and founder of KickAss Careers; and Matt Wayland, Canadian director of government relations for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
They need to basically change the perception of the skilled trades by educating,
— Jamie McMillan
Rennehan said she is grateful the government recognized the need for an overarching strategy and campaign to support the trades. The committee is expected to lead consultations, explore partnerships and provide advice to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
“This is our way of solving the systemic perception that has always been in this industry,” said Rennehan.
“It has started to change but it hasn’t changed enough for us to see the economic positivity behind it.”
The issue, explained Rennehan, is a lot of parents or grandparents that are or were in the trades were not treated well.
“They were treated like second class citizens,” Rennehan stated. “That’s why all of our kids have been told to go to university and not see it as a prideful and professional career.”
McMillan described being asked to join the committee by Patty Hajdu, minister of employment, workforce development and labour, as an “epic moment.”
“She called and let me know that the government was interested in putting this committee together because they understand the need for skilled trades,” said McMillan.
“There is a shortage and they need to basically change the perception of the skilled trades by educating more youth, parents and educators about the different pathways and the lucrative careers that they offer.”
McMillan started her career as an ironworker in 2002 when women represented two per cent of the North American workforce. She has been an advocate for the skilled trades since 2006. In 2012, she started doing it independently under her own brand, KickAss Careers, and today she speaks to students, parents, educators and employers across North America.
One of the mandates when pitching the committee to the federal government, Rennehan explained, was the need to define the inclusivity and diversity of what the trades can look like and why it’s important.
While the campaign targets everyone, it will focus on women who make up four per cent of the industry right now.
“The committee is going to be in charge of really understanding the structure and the outreach behind this national campaign and identifying the voids and where the creativity really needs to come out,” said Rennehan. “The second part of it is really honing in on the employers and the apprenticeship programs to really connect them together.”
Wayland began his career at the IBEW as a construction and maintenance electrical apprentice in the Niagara Region in 2001. After becoming a licensed Red Seal construction and maintenance electrician, he was elected to serve on a local union executive board and was elected president of the local union in 2010.
In 2011, Wayland became IBEW Canada’s first full-time political action and media strategist, providing training, education, and support to IBEW local union leaders and members across the country.
“We need to work with industry stakeholders to make sure we are going to meet the needs to fill these voids left by not only people leaving the skilled trades workforce but also the demand for the skilled trades as we move forward as a country and continue to build infrastructure and try and attract new businesses to the country as well,” said Wayland.
“These are good quality careers because it gives you the tools you need to take those skills anywhere in the world, We want to get that message across and make it more accessible to all Canadians.”
He is looking forward to working with the other committee members to consult stakeholders across the country and ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their voice heard.
“This impacts the whole country so we need to make sure we are available for people,” said Wayland.
“I’m hoping to hit the ground running and really sit down and explore what we can do together and really hear from the industry…taking best practices and getting advice on how to build them up and build them out.”
Follow Angela on Twitter @DCN_Angela.