Edmonton

Alberta seeing more and more students enrolling in trades programs

According to Statistics Canada, workers nearing retirement are quickly outnumbering young people of an age to enter the labour market, driving up the demand for new skilled tradespeople.

The province saw a 43 per cent increase in new apprentice registrations in 2022

A man in a suit smiling at the camera.
Matthew Lindberg, dean of NAIT's School of Skilled Trades, said apprenticeship enrolment is up. (Submitted by NAIT)

Every day after his classes at NAIT in Edmonton, Keegan Renaud makes the three-hour drive to Hinton, where he works as a mechanic at Canadian Tire.

Renaud, 20, a first-year student in NAIT's automotive service technician program, has wanted to work as a mechanic since he first tinkered with vehicles as a child.

"My first job was as a tire technician, so I was very involved in the trade," he said in an interview.

"I had a few people mentor me and show me the ropes of everything, and that gave me the push to go and become a journeyman myself."

Renaud is one of many Canadians signing up for apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades, according to Statistics Canada.

A man in a cap smiling at the camera
Yaw Gyambibi, 35, said he is working toward maintenance positions with companies in the energy sector. (Submitted by Yaw Gyambibi)

The agency says the number of people pursuing apprenticeships is at the highest level since 2014.

By contrast, registrations in community and social service programs remain below their pre-pandemic levels.

When Edmonton electrician Yaw Gyambibi wanted to upgrade his skill set, he went back to NAIT for the instrumentation and control technician program.

Gyambibi, 35, said he is working toward maintenance positions with companies in the energy sector.

"I've noticed with companies, they'd rather pay one person who is dual-ticket — that can do two jobs," he said.

Increase in demand

Apprenticeship enrolment is up at NAIT, said Matthew Lindberg, dean of NAIT's School of Skilled Trades.

NAIT's apprenticeship enrolment stood at 7,000 in 2022-23, up from about 6,500 the year before. More than 1,950 apprentices graduated from their NAIT programs in 2022-23.

Lindberg said the skilled trades program is expecting a 12 per cent increase in the coming year.

"Looking into next year, we're planning for the number of seats that we're going to need to help support industry and meet the apprenticeship demand," he said.

There are a couple of reasons for the increase in demand, Lindberg noted.

"Our economy is strong, and there are some significant projects that are slated or are proposed for the region, especially in northern Alberta and central Alberta," he said. 

"We've worked really hard as a province to elevate trades and promote them as a viable pathway for folks who are looking for a career that's going to lead them to be successful." 

<p>More Canadians are signing up for apprenticeships in skilled trades, according to Statistics Canada. It says the number of people pursuing an apprenticeship is at its highest level since 2014. Enrolment in Edmonton is up, too. Matt Lindberg is the dean of the School of Skilled Trades at NAIT.</p>

Trades across the country need more representation to help combat labour shortages. 

"We've got to be focusing on multiple facets — newcomers to Canada, we need more women in the trades," Lindberg said.

"We need more representation of our communities in those workforces."

According to Statistics Canada, workers nearing retirement are quickly outnumbering young people of an age to enter the labour market, driving up the demand for new skilled tradespeople.

Last September, the Alberta government announced $12.4 million in funding for 2,000 apprenticeship seats. Earlier last year, the province announced $15 million in funding over three years to add more than 1,000 apprenticeship spaces.

A young man with long hair and a ball cap looks into the camera, with a mountain scene behind him.
Keegan Renaud is one of many Canadians signing up for apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades. (Submitted by Keegan Renaud)

Alberta saw a 43 per cent increase in new apprentice registrations in 2022, totalling 15,662 across all 47 apprenticeship programs, Mackenzie Blyth, press secretary in the office of the Minister of Advanced Education, said in a statement to CBC.

Blyth said more than 75 per cent of all Alberta apprentices are in these programs: steamfitter-pipefitter; welder; industrial mechanic (millwright); heavy equipment technician; crane and hoisting equipment operator; electrician; automotive service technician; carpenter; plumber; hairstylist.

Data from 2023 is being compiled and is anticipated to be published later in the spring, he said. 

Blyth said between 2021 and 2022, the province saw the largest growth in the steamfitter-pipefitter apprentice and welder apprentice programs.

At NAIT, the top five in-demand apprenticeship programs for the past five years have been electrician, heavy equipment technician, automotive service technician, carpenter and welder.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ishita Verma

Producer

Ishita Verma is an associate producer for CBC Edmonton, focusing on local and diverse voices in the city.

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