The Victoria Island Construction Association (VICA) is concerned a wood-shop facility has been cut from plans for a seismic replacement of Cedar Hill Middle School at a time when the industry is struggling to attract skilled workers.
The Greater Victoria School District is dropping the wood shop from the $46.5-million project because of the estimated $500,000 cost to purchase and maintain an exhaust system. Work is scheduled to start this fall.
VICA CEO Rory Kulmala has sent a letter to Education and Child Care Minister Jennifer Whiteside, expressing concern about the message that such a move conveys. It notes he is worried because it is important to present the construction trades to youth early in their journey through the education system.
“We have a duty and obligation to promote the virtues and all things construction,” he explains. “Certainly, with middle school-aged children, that is when they start to develop their learning pathways. Some tend to be stronger academically and some tend to be stronger in more an applied way. I think that the school system is limiting children with exposing them to where we want them to be as an adult.”
The way members of VICA view it, shop class is an integral part of a young person’s learning journey and youth need to know the trades are an option.
Kulmala says both of his daughters took shop class and loved it because they developed skills they wouldn’t learn in a math class.
“Where the schools are focusing is certainly marginalizing a lot of these programs that really help children.”
The new school is being built to replace the current structure that was constructed in 1931 and is one of the oldest in the district. The new build should be completed in summer 2025 with space for 575 students.
Plans include space for home economics, art and drama. There will be a makerspace where students can assemble pre-manufactured products and use hand tools, but no machinery or equipment.
“They’re focused on the budget. They’re trying to deliver a new school. Costs have increased and they’re scaling it back,” adds Kulmala. “Unfortunately, in doing that they’re going to have an inferior product at the end of the day that’s not going to service the needs of the children. They’re making a decision based on finances.”
At a time when the province trying to get more youth into the trades, VICA maintains it makes no sense to cut the shop component.
According to BuildForce Canada, the construction industry in B.C. will have to replace more than 41,000 retiring workers, or 22 per cent of the current labour force, over the next decade. Accounting for retirements and expansion demand, the industry will need to recruit close to 59,700 workers within 10 years.
VICA states, given the current tempo of construction, the industry is already experiencing significant challenges with meeting the current skilled workforce demand.
“From an industry point of view, to address our future needs, we must pique the interest of our youth as soon as possible. We view our middle school-aged children as key to growing the future skilled workforce that our sector will desperately need. With that in mind, we can not think that taking away resources and proper learning environments such as shop classes will help this cause.”
The letter notes not having a wood shop will limit the possibility of students selecting trades in high school, and the education system must start presenting trades to youth earlier in their education journey and create a system that allows them to excel at shop and continue on their journey upon graduation.
If having a shop class is beyond the scope of the school district, Kulmala says the province should adjust its budget to make sure the program is included.
“On one hand you have the Ministry of Labour lamenting about how we’re desperate for people to come into the trades so the ministry can advance its developing infrastructure. They’re funding universities and colleges to grow and expand our trades and then you’ve got a middle and a high school level that is seemingly going in the opposite direction.”
In its letter, VICA states if a new school is going to be built, it should be constructed right the first time.
“Include a properly equipped shop class, install the required ventilation and equipment, and meet the needs of students. This is a long-term investment that will pay itself off in spades.”
A series of open-house events has been held for individuals to give input on design elements and examine preliminary floor plans and architectural renderings.
Time is of the essence, though, as the period to review requirements is nearing an end. The input will be compiled and reviewed by the school board.