What were they thinking?

I started high school in 1969. My school had a full compliment of shop classes – wood working, automotive, metal work, etc. When students returned after the summer in 1970, they found most of these shops had been removed; the only one remaining was woodwork.

Suddenly a whole group of students that had little interest in academics – and I was one of them – had little reason to attend school, other than the threat of the belt or being thrown out of home by their parents.

I was a kid at the time; I had no idea what prompted this. I don’t think our parents knew either. The assumption has long been that school board officials were academics and they felt that everyone should be like them. I’ve never heard a better explanation. Larger cities had central technical schools, so that was an option for some students.

But the results were devastating, at my school anyway. A bunch of young people that were just not interested in what the school now had to offer found other ways to bide their time, doing just enough school work to avoid being expelled. Social problems and bullying became more pronounced. Drug use in schools – this was the sixties and seventies – became common.

I was reminded of this as I read the report on an initiative by the Peel Regional School Board in Ontario to re-introduce trade programs (See article below). The list of trades is similar to those that were removed from my high school.

They are not the first; there are now a number of high schools offering trade and vocational programs, including specialized plumbing and HVAC classes along with co-op programs with local employers. We see young people from those schools every year at provincial Skills competitions.

Gradually, school officials are coming to the realization that there are alternate career paths than simply pursuing a university degree in the hopes of being one of the lucky few to find employment in a chosen field.

The industry is at a stage where it needs new blood. Many experienced and highly qualified people are reaching retirement age.

Schools have an important role to play in simply, if nothing else, making young people aware that trade and industry careers are an option. However, bringing vocational training back in high schools will do so much more and is long overdue. Let’s hope this trend continues and accelerates.


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