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Gatineau, Que. elementary students get hands-on experience in skilled trades

As demand for skilled trades workers soars across the country, students in Quebec are a getting a unique hands-on experience at a young age.

“The [teacher] taught us all what the machines do and how to measure the angles of the metal and all that,” said Grade 5 student Dawson Reid, who is learning how to weld.

It’s part of a unique partnership between the Western Quebec Career Centre and Gatineau’s Eardley Elementary School.

“That’s something that we’re trying to move away from, where students who are underperforming academically, they go to a trade school,” said director Damian Curley.

“The trades, they’re skilled trades these days. Automotive technicians have to be able to diagnose. They have to be able to problem solve. They have to be good with those kind of skills.”

Students in grades 5 and 6 are selected based on their academics and interests and they have two options welding or auto mechanics.

This year so far, the elementary students have four sessions lasting two hours each.

The program started 2018 with 10 students and has since grown to 80 students.

“We meet with the teachers in both the welding and auto mechanics program ahead of time to kind of see what characteristics their students possess: creativity, desire to build things, take things apart,” said principal Julia Horner.

“We really want to make sure the children know that there are different avenues, all equally as great. So one might be going the university route, but it’s not a fallback, it’s an actual viable road for them.”

With hundreds of thousands of skilled trades workers expected to retire in the next four years, the demand has never been higher.

“I had the same kind of tactile experience these kids are having it’s important to make sure people know that there are trades out there that do things like build your houses and buildings and you can be a part of it,” said first year student, Mark McMillen.

But it’s not just the trades, there’s also a shortage of health-care workers across the country.

“Health care is one of the programs we’re looking at. Maybe we can bring in the elementary school kids to learn more about health care in general,” said Curley.

Paving the path at a young age, learning new skills for the future.

“Our Ministry of Education, one of their major orientations for the province this year is to make vocational training more attractive and more accessible for everybody. So that’s a mandate coming from the ministry that we’re very excited to tackle as well,” said Curley. 

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