There are many reasons why Dan White, a third-year plumbing apprentice at UA Local 46, chose the skilled trades as a second career.
“I actually started in the Canadian film industry,” said White, who was a guest speaker during the First Nations, Metis, Inuit (FNMI) Student Conference held virtually recently. “I worked on many TV shows, feature films, even music videos. I also served in the Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian Artillery. I chose to switch to a skilled trade as my second career because of the ability to have more personal time, great pay and a meaningful future.
“The reason I left the film industry — I loved it, I got to travel the world — but I wanted more time to be with my family,” he added. “As glamourous as the industry is, it’s very long hours and I was away all the time. I wanted to spend time with my little one, my son.”
The 2020 FNMI-focused Student Conference was held online in May with the goal of helping students understand career options available in the skilled trades and technologies.
The event is usually held in conjunction with the Skills Ontario competition but was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every day is a new day. I get to work with my hands and I get to learn stuff,” White explained. “Basically when you do a trade you are paid to learn, unlike going to university or college where you pay to learn and upon completion there is no guarantee you will have a job.
“When you do a skilled trade you have a career, you have a future. My trade is a Red Seal trade and upon completion I can work anywhere in Canada.”
He talked about his responsibilities as an apprentice, which he said are to show up fit for duty, on time and ready to work, learn and listen.
Being in the trades you have the ability to have financial freedom,
— Dan White
“When you start out as an apprentice you will be making sure that the area is clean, making sure there are proper tools on the carts and the material of course,” White said. “You will be expected to pay attention, be organized, keep a notepad and learn. As your apprenticeship continues you will be given more responsibility, more tasks. At first you may not want to do all that stuff but that’s how you truly learn. That’s how you become a good journeyman, because when you know the material it gives you the ability to understand what you will be doing later on.”
One thing he likes about the trades is the flexibility it offers.
“I work a 36-hour work week Monday through Thursday which means every weekend I get a long weekend and if I work more than 36 hours I get paid overtime,” White said.
“In the trades, at the end of the day you close your toolbox and you don’t have to open it again until the next day. You leave your work at work.”
The compensation is great too, he pointed out.
“For all of you young people that want to get out of your parents’ house, being in the trades you have the ability to have financial freedom,” he said.
It also gives you time to pursue other passions.
White was able to pursue his love for stand-up comedy when he entered the trades, something he wasn’t able to do working long hours in the film industry.
“Don’t get me wrong, the trades have become my passion but you still have the ability if you want to make music, paint, do kickboxing, fish or hunt,” he said.
His favourite thing about being a plumber is being able to work with water.
“We pipe water to the hospitals, cities and homes,” he noted. “We bring the essence of life to the people. For me that is pretty awesome, especially being Indigenous.”
His advice to high school students was to take the time to research as many different skilled trades as possible.
“I’m not telling you to do a skilled trade, I’m simply telling you to think about it,” said White. “I’m not saying not to go to university or college. I think that’s a great thing. A higher education is amazing but there is no guarantee that you’ll have a job after graduation.
“When I was in high school my parents really pushed the trades on me and I went in my own direction,” White added. “I ended up where I am now, but you have to make this decision on your own. Spend time on this, it’s your future.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.