Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce told contractors gathered for the annual Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) convention recently his ministry is a committed ally, pledging to deliver the human capital the builders need to prosper as new roads remain a high priority for the government.
Lecce said there was a close link between the reforms his ministry is undertaking and the work roadbuilders are doing in the field, with the symbiotic relationship helping to build the province’s infrastructure and the future prosperity of Ontario.
“We have an opportunity to graduate young people with a competitive advantage,” said Lecce. “We’re right now in the province building $159 billion of infrastructure, the largest infrastructure program of its kind in this province’s history. We cannot do it without people like you.
“In partnership with private industry and labour, education is going to be essential as we build roads and highways and subways and houses.”
Lecce, MPP for the riding of King-Vaughan and minister of education since June 2019, was the keynote luncheon speaker on day one of the ORBA conference held in Toronto Feb. 6 and 7.
He cited changes in Ontario’s curriculum to boost financial literacy, math skills and computer coding; new programming to introduce children to the skilled trades as early as Grade 1; a boost in the number of recruiters from the business world invited to speak to students; and the November 2022 expansion of the dual credit program for apprentices as examples of his government’s commitment to create value for employers such as roadbuilders.
“The number one way by which we can create value for your industry is making sure that the next generation of graduates in the province are talented, capable and ambitious young people who are ready to embrace opportunities in the skilled trades,” said Lecce.
For the first time in a long while, the limitation to growth in the economy is not funding but people, Lecce said, citing the significant investment he said the government is making in education and building infrastructure.
“That’s why I’m here with a plan and a message of hope that we are very much squarely focused on building up a talented skilled labour force,” he said.
“I’ll tell you, I don’t always get a lot of Christmas cards from my labour friends, but we have to be bold in this space.”
The expansion of the dual credit program announced last year will create opportunities for an additional 2,200 students to earn college credits and take apprenticeship training while still in high school. It’s intended to build interest in skilled trades as a career, Lecce said.
The economy of the future will include many of the untapped resources available in the north of Ontario including the minerals of the Ring of Fire, Lecce said, citing another example of how roadbuilders are essential to the economy.
“We need roads to connect to those resources,” he said. “We need to get people to those places and get those products to foreign markets.”
As well, those roads will create opportunities for Indigenous Ontarians of the north to participate in resource development, Lecce said.
Lecce alluded to his Italian heritage in describing how parents of new Canadians think the best way for their children to excel in a new country is to go to university to become lawyers or doctors.
The ministry has started a marketing campaign designed in part to address the stigma of the skilled trades, he noted.
“At the end of the day we just want more people entering into the skilled trades. I think our schools can play a critical role in helping connect the dots.”
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