Do you recall being labelled as the “less academic” kid who couldn’t make it to university? I was that child. Instead of enjoying summer camps and hanging out with friends, I spent my time assisting my parents in their HVAC company; a job I initially despised. Little did I know, this experience would shape my future in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Looking back, I am immensely grateful that my parents invested in me by teaching me a skilled trade. It has led to a fulfilling career, despite my high school human resources teacher attempting to dissuade me. Today, I realize the value and fortune of pursuing a trade. My journey stands as a testament to the rewarding nature of skilled trades.
The misconception that choosing a trade is a mark of inadequacy or failure is unjust. I now understand that there was never anything wrong with me. We must challenge the negative stereotypes surrounding skilled trades, particularly the archaic notion that they are exclusively for men. Trades are not limited by gender, background, race, or religion. My mother, the driving force behind an HVAC company based in Guelph, Ont, was instrumental in its success, overseeing its financial growth, maintaining schedules, and driving its expansion until she retired.
The involvement of women in trades is not a novelty; it is an existing reality that demands our support and empowerment. Let us foster an inclusive environment where discussions revolve around normalizing the participation of individuals of all ages and backgrounds in trades.
Dispelling the myths
The belief that blue-collar workers lack intelligence or the capacity to excel in fields like banking or engineering is a baseless myth perpetuated by a lack of dialogue and understanding. Having spent my youth and twenties working with tools and the past two decades in technical design and training, I can confidently state that my blue-collar background has not hindered me. On the contrary, it has grounded me and provided a unique perspective when problem-solving.
My proficiency in mathematics, coupled with firsthand knowledge of installation and servicing, has been instrumental in my success. It is not a matter of being better than white-collar workers; it is a matter of approaching challenges differently, drawing on diverse experiences.
Jamie Johnson from IBC Technologies has been in the industry for around three decades and has worked with boilers and heat pumps as a contractor, trainer, and mentor. If ever I get stumped on a complex issue, I tell my team I am calling Obi-Wan Kenobi. They know who I mean every time.
Jamie’s dedication lies in his practical expertise rather than pursuing fancy designations. His ability to troubleshoot combustion systems with ease and explain complex mathematical concepts while meticulously repairing equipment on job sites is awe-inspiring.
In a similar vein, we have Lance MacNevin, director of engineering at Plastic Pipe Institute, another industry expert who, along with Dale Hanscomb, formerly of Rehau, introduced me to hydronic design. When I started working at Eden Energy as a technical advisor, I had the privilege of learning from Lance. Patience personified, he successfully taught me the intricacies of hydronic design, even when I challenged every answer and pushed the boundaries of my understanding.
Indispensable skilled workers
When Elon Musk requires air conditioning, he calls somebody like Jamie Johnson. When Jeff Bezos needs an efficient heating and cooling system for a starship journey to Mars, he seeks out somebody with Lance MacNevin’s expertise. Our society relies on skilled trades and blue-collar workers for essential services. Without them, our infrastructure would crumble. Imagine the escalating costs of maintenance and HVAC equipment when there is a severe shortage of the workforce required to fulfil these tasks.
While the advent of AI brings immense potential, it cannot replace the invaluable contributions of blue-collar workers. AI cannot unclog toilets, install boilers, troubleshoot heat pumps, or design radiant floor heating systems. At least not yet.
The notion of blue-collar versus white-collar is obsolete; it is not an either or choice. We must value and embrace both. Our skills and career choices should not rely on external validation. Instead, we should focus on factors such as fair wages, the ability to support our families, and the positive impact we can make. To create a brighter future, we need to reshape our approach to training the next generation of technicians and challenge the negative stigma surrounding skilled trades.
One way to address the shortage of skilled workers is to revalue the qualification process for foreign workers, suggests Tom Heckbert from Rheem. A steamfitter from Germany should be able to demonstrate their skills and fast-track their licensing, eliminating the need for redundant years of schooling.
Martin Luymes from HRAI emphasizes the importance of transforming our educational system, incorporating practical trade-related knowledge alongside traditional subjects like mathematics. By doing so, we can actively engage students interested in trades and eliminate the notion that white-collar careers are exclusively for “math kids.”
It is time to overcome the stigma attached to skilled trades. Instead of referring to them simply as “the trades,” let us recognize them for what they truly are — skilled trades. We must appreciate the value and significance of blue-collar workers in our society. Their contributions are indispensable, and their expertise ensures our daily needs are met. We must continue empowering adults and youth to explore to pursue skilled trades.