Teacher Clint Maltais’ project started out as a plan to build a garden for Peter Greer Elementary School in Lake Country, B.C.
He successfully received a Healthy Schools BC grant and grabbed some tools from home to build six garden beds, an outdoor whiteboard and a greenhouse with his students.
“Seeing kids use tools on the designs I built was incredibly powerful because they were so engaged,” said Maltais. “I thought about how we could make this happen next year on a regular basis.”
Jason Henderson, CEO of the Southern Interior Construction Association (SICA), immediately saw an opportunity when Maltais contacted him. The association decided it would be the first project for the SICA Fund and partnered with the Construction Foundation of BC to raise funds for a design lab.
The goal of the fund is to finance projects that matter to the region and the association’s members.
“As the lack of skilled labour increases and more and more skilled tradespersons are retiring, we need every tool available to ensure a construction workforce for tomorrow,” Henderson said.
The association, with the help of the foundation, was able to reach its fundraising goal of $6,000. The money was used to purchase hand tools and small power tools for the lab, which will introduce more than 100 Grade 4 to 6 students to the trades.
“When they asked for this stuff we knew it was going towards the kind of training we want to see,” said Henderson. “So far, I think it has been a pretty good success and at this point we are looking for other projects. We have had some other school districts see the results and they are interested but there is nothing concrete yet.”
Henderson noted with projects like the Site C dam and Kitimat LNG likely to suck up many labour resources in the future, the need for skilled trades workers will only increase. General labourers, carpenters and sheet metal workers are especially difficult to come by.
“It doesn’t look like it is going to improve any time soon,” he said. “We know it’s a long process, but we know we just need to continue to encourage that interest in construction, so we see a steady inflow of people.”
In a statement to the Journal of Commerce, Construction Foundation of BC executive director Abigail Fulton explained the importance of supporting young students in exploring trade careers.
“At the Construction Foundation of BC, we are fortunate to connect with amazing individuals and organizations who are dedicated to enhancing the communities in which they live and work,” said Fulton. “The Southern Interior Construction Association demonstrates commitment to their region in so many ways – when the opportunity to support them in their charitable efforts came up, it was an easy choice for us to get involved.”
She added the impact of introducing young people in the kindergarten to Grade 12 system to various trades can be huge.
“From choosing trades related electives in high school to planning after graduation career paths, early introduction helps young people to make informed decisions as they plan for their future,” said Fulton. “With worker shortages being forecasted at an increasing rate, any opportunities we have to introduce young people to the industry are ones we want to be involved with.”
Maltais explained the impact on the kids has been positive.
“It gives kids who normally struggle with school a different avenue for success,” he said. “It provides that authentic, relevant experience for some of them to apply some of the concepts. For instance, we can give them math to do with fractions and they really struggle, but you give them a tape measure and a piece of wood and all of the sudden, they can figure out 16-and-seven-eighths and where that is on the mark.”