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Young tradespeople showcase their skills

SASKATOON, Sask. - A number of youths vying for a career in the trades descended upon the Prairies in June to prove they were the best of the best; and when it comes to heavy equipment service, Jason ...

SASKATOON, Sask. – A number of youths vying for a career in the trades descended upon the Prairies in June to prove they were the best of the best; and when it comes to heavy equipment service, Jason Mann was just that.

Skills Canada, the national not-for-profit organization that actively promotes careers in skilled trades and technologies to Canadian youth, held its 13th Canadian Skills Competition in Saskatoon June 6-9.

Provincial and territorial branches of Skills Canada hold annual Olympic-style competitions to test the skills of young people at secondary and post-secondary levels for trade and technology occupations. Gold medallists from each province or territory then go on to compete in the Canadian Skills Competition.

Mann, a post-secondary student from Manitoba, took home the gold in the Heavy Equipment Service category, while Kyle Wright of the Northwest Territories followed with the silver and Chance MacKenzie of Nova Scotia rounded out the medallists with a bronze.

The three Heavy Equipment Service medallists were joined in Saskatoon by nearly 550 other Canadian youth, who were competing in a number of different categories. Categories of competition are based on industry trends and needs, which vary from year to year. In 2007, 42 categories of competition will be delivered at the Canadian Skills Competition.

“About 20 years ago, careers in the trades went out of fashion,” says Donavon Elliott, chair of Skills Canada Saskatchewan and a teacher from Prince Albert. “About the same time, the need for workers in applied technology careers began to grow. The work of Skills Canada and its regional branches across the country is helping to build these workforces through our young people. The well-being of our economy and our infrastructure depends on these careers, which are extremely viable and rewarding, yet undervalued.”

Skills Canada works with employers, educators, labour groups and governments to promote skilled trades and technology careers among Canadian youth.

Primary programming for Skills Canada is the Olympic-style competition, which provides a forum for secondary, post-secondary, and apprentice students to compete in numerous trade and technology categories. Students participate in practical challenges designed by industry professionals to test the skills of trade and technology occupations.

Throughout the remainder of the year, Skills Canada connects youth to trades and technology careers through school presentations and visits, career fairs, youth conferences and community clubs.

The federal government is also providing incentives that could help encourage people to pursue a career as a heavy-duty vehicle technician.

“Despite the healthy growth in Canada’s economy, if you ask employers what their biggest worry is, most will reply that finding enough skilled workers tops the list,” said Zarah Malik of Human Resources and Social Development Canada. “This is no surprise. Every day there are media stories reporting that there will soon be more jobs in the skilled trades than qualified people to fill them.”

The Conference Board of Canada forecasts that Canada could be short one million workers by 2020, due to an aging workforce and declining birth rates. As well, during the next two decades it is estimated 40% of the jobs in the marketplace will be in the skilled trades and technologies sector.

The feds have introduced three programs aimed at addressing the shortage of skilled tradespeople by encouraging apprenticeship training and supporting young people who pursue careers in the skilled trades. While the programs aren’t entirely new, Malik wishes to raise awareness of the programs.

An Apprenticeship Incentive Grant program provides a taxable cash grant of $1,000 per year to registered apprentices upon successful completion of their first or second year/level of an apprenticeship program in one of the Red Seal trades (which includes heavy-duty vehicle technicians).

Last year, an Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit was announced, which provides employers with a tax credit of up to $2,000 per apprentice for each of the first two years of his or her contract in one of the Red Seal trades.

This credit aims to encourage more employers to participate in apprenticeship training.

Also introduced last year was a new deduction to recognize that many employed tradespeople, including those in the trucking industry, must provide their own tools as a condition of employment.

As a result of the new deduction, a tradesperson is eligible to deduct up to $500 from his or her annual income for the costs of new tools in excess of $1,000 that were purchased as a requirement for the job.

“Altogether, some 100,000 apprentices could benefit as a result of the new grant and the tax credit. We will continue to work with the provinces and territories, employers and unions in other ways to support the skilled trades,” noted Malik.

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