Exploring the trades is a key opportunity all students should have.
Providing students with information about resources available to them after high school is very important. But did you know that putting too much emphasis on college and university as the only and best options for post-secondary education isn’t necessarily ideal?
Canada is now facing a skilled labour shortage, which means that students should have more than one option after high school. Rising student loan debt, people unhappy in their jobs, quiet quitting, massive career shifts – these are issues that plague this generation of workers.
Are we, as teachers, genuinely exposing the upcoming generations to many possible career options – or is the focus placed more on getting students into university? I am passionate about helping students think about any and all jobs that might appeal to them. It is not just about a linear post-secondary pathway – it is about helping students recognize their interests and find meaningful career ideas.
Let’s Talk About Exploring The Trades
It is very important that, as teachers, we provide students with all opportunities available to them for post-secondary education, and this should include exploring the trades. The stigma that surrounds the “trades” has been around for ages. People tend to look down on workers in these jobs or think that the people who work them are uneducated. Why is this still the perception? I have no idea.
Take this example: There are welders around you that make just as much money as surgeons in your community, and they don’t have the burden of student loan debt.
It all starts with career exploration and not just the “main ones” – all of them. Check out this Middle School Career Exploration blog post.
What are the benefits of trade jobs?
There are many benefits of trade jobs. Here are just a few:
- Working in the trades offers students the ability to learn while also making an income. Workers generally start as apprentices, so they are learning alongside experienced workers in that field and still making an income.
- The trades come with a wide variety of employment opportunities. These include pipefitters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, welders, carpenters, and much more. These jobs also offer on-the-job training and can provide you with certification, safety tickets, and whatever you need to do your job safely.
- Trade jobs can often provide higher wages than other occupations, as well as benefits. According to Alberta Information Learning Service, a Power Technician in Alberta can make an average of $50/hour. If you work for a company, you can also get benefit packages and vacation time after working a certain amount of hours with that company, and they might even have a retirement plan.
- Working in the trades can offer workers the benefit of learning new skills. Some trades are even connected with others so that you could end up training for more than one ticket. For example, pipefitting-steamfitting is closely related to gasfitting. Projects are also always changing, and there are always new skills to be learned in different projects.
- Trades jobs can offer an opportunity to travel and/or work outdoors. While trades jobs tend to be physically demanding, they can often require working outdoors, which can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Some companies even require workers to travel, which can be both challenging and rewarding.
Activities To Help Students With Exploring the Trades
Here are some activities you can incorporate in any classroom to help students with exploring the trades.
Trades Throughout Time
Many of our students will be in careers that don’t even exist yet; think about that for a second. Now think back to the early 2000s and what jobs aren’t around anymore (RIP Blockbuster). Think back even further. To know where we are going, we must look at where we’ve been. A fun activity for your students (and you) is Trades Throughout Time!
You can do this however works best for your classroom. It could be:
- An essay
- A skit
- A presentation with slides
- A poster
- Anything creative
This works as an individual, partner, or group assignment. You could assign each student or group a certain decade (or more); you can even go back to the horse and buggy days.
Students will research the most and least popular jobs and the salaries for that specific time in history. They can also explore other countries. You could do this in your own class, or you could partner with another teacher, such as the Social Studies teacher.
From the Ground Up
Students, and people in general, typically only think of teachers, principals, and counsellors when they think about their school. This is great, but who else contributed to making their school what it is today?
Have your students explore what goes into building and running a school “behind the scenes.” Have them research how their school was built, literally from the ground up, and what career types were involved in the overall process.
This could lead to a couple of different options for you. You could:
- Have students interview people in these different careers (with a phone call or email) and work on communication skills at the same time
- Have them research one of those careers and create a presentation/poster/essay/etc.
Both of these options will help students realize there are a ton of careers that work together and will open their eyes to other possibilities than the typical jobs they are used to seeing and hearing about every day.
“Put a face with a name” is the perfect way to help yourself remember someone or something – the same can work with careers.
Assign students different careers in the trades and have them research and find a famous person within that trade. It may not be someone they have heard of, but someone who made a name for themselves or an impact in that career field.
Give them specific questions to answer, such as:
- When did this person start their career?
- Did they have any education/training? If so, where did they go?
- How did they get started in their career?
- What problem(s) do they solve on a daily basis?
- What is something encouraging about this person?
- What was/is their salary?
You can have them choose someone currently in this position or someone throughout history. To find famous tradespeople – have students search YouTube, Social Media and HGTV (and other home improvement content providers) for their stars (e.g., Bryan Baeumler), as many of them started off with regular jobs before their fame.
Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs
Speaking of famous people, Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs has made a giant impact in the world of trades. If you don’t know the show, Dirty Jobs exposes jobs people don’t typically think of, most of which are literally very dirty.
Some of these segments showcase extreme jobs or jobs that many people find gross, like bed bug exterminators. Mike shows what a day in the life of one of these skilled workers is like, and most of the time, it’s exhausting just watching and it gives people a new perspective and appreciation for the people who do these jobs every day.
Mike Rowe not only created a fascinating and entertaining television show, but he also created the Mike Rowe WORKS Foundation, which has helped so many lives in its short existence.
Here are some fast facts about his foundation:
- It was founded in 2008
- It has granted over $5.2 million in scholarships so far
- There have been over 1,200 scholarship recipients
- Over 19 specific skilled trades are supported
- It is in 48 states within the US
Mike stands for hard work. This program is not easy, and these scholarships are not “handouts.” Students work tirelessly to be granted one of these opportunities. They must adopt the SWEAT Pledge: “Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.”
The Mike Rowe Foundation website is an excellent resource for people working in skilled trades; it has a jobs link that posts highly-skilled jobs that are approved by Mike Rowe himself. You could probably do a whole unit on the work Mike Rowe has accomplished!
Dirty Jobs Video Segments
To help your students with exploring the trades, show them a few clips of the TV show Dirty Jobs. Preview every Dirty Jobs video clip you want to show in class. There are some graphic scenes and explicit language, and some episodes may not be appropriate for your students. Remember, middle school students are not the target audience for this show!
- Mike Rowe Scrubs the Filthiest Pool in Florida | Dirty Jobs (Turn off right before the end, there is a swear word at the very end, but it’s censored)
- Dirty Jobs: Foul & Fabulous: Septic Tank Technician (Turn off right before the end, reference to “cracks” as in butts)
- Dirty Jobs Sorting Chips
Career Research Project
If you are looking for an activity to get your students to brainstorm different career paths they might enjoy, this Career Exploration and Research Project is the perfect activity.
Help your students think purposely about their futures with this Career Exploration and Research Project. Students will take a quiz to help them research a career, and then they will follow a guided assignment process – brainstorming, research, career poster creation, and oral presentation with scheduled check-ins throughout the process to ensure project completion.
- Detailed Teacher Instructions
- Career Research Assignment Sheet
- 2 Types of Assessment Rubrics (Levels & Points Based)
- 6 Graphic Organizers
- Research Assistance
- Print & Digital Formats
Hands-On STEM Projects & Other Resources
To get students invested in exploring the trades, have them try hands-on activities.
- Check out the resources in this Middle School Math Enrichment Lessons blog post which gives a wide variety of math ideas.
- This Middle School sub plan on Green Buildings and Spaces is a way to get students to think about how these buildings are made.
- Miracle Recreation has some great ideas for STEM building lessons.
- We Are Teachers has some interactive career exploration activities for middle and high schoolers.
Career Guest Speakers
Hosting a career day at your school is a great way to get people from the trades in the classroom to talk about their experiences. Talk to your students about what their family members do for work and have someone who works in the trades come in, or contact local businesses that might have guest speakers available to give your students an insight into the profession.
Take Your Kids To Work Day / Job Shadowing
Although not something that happens in all provinces, taking your kids to work or having a “job shadowing” day is an exciting way to expose your students to the challenges and perks of working in the trades.
Additional Trades Career Resources
- Learning to pick the right career is very important when it comes to trades, as the days can be long, and they will want to do something they love.
- In Alberta, Careers the Next Generation is an organization dedicated to working with schools to help students and employers connect.
- And in Ontario, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program is a high school program that gives students a chance to explore the trades.
Exploring The Trades Resources
- Exploring Skilled Trades and Apprenticeships | Let’s Talk Science
- What are the Skilled Trades?
- Teaching With Scenario-Based Learning in Skilled Trades – Realityworks
- Youth Explore Trades Skills
- How can parents and teachers help K-12 students enter careers in the skilled trades? | EdCan Network