The Pembroke Memorial Centre was a hub of activity Thursday as the county’s youth gathered for the 10th annual Options 2012 Skilled Trades Career and Job Fair.
“Ten years ago there was a desire to encourage more youth to consider a career in the skilled trades and that spawned the idea to hold a skilled trade fair for Renfrew County high school students,” said Jamie Bramburger, Algonquin College manager of community and student affairs. “A decade later Options 2012 is one of the largest skilled trade showcases in Ontario.
Organizers expected over 3,500 people to attend the event, with high school students being bused in and parents, job seekers, educators and politicians also dropping by check out this year’s trade show.
Talking about the humble beginnings of Options in Petawawa 10 years ago, Renfrew County Warden Bob Sweet said there were a few kids who took advantage of the event.
“But today when you see what is here, congratulations to you for all that you have brought together to give the kids the choice and the options.”
Skill competitions kicked off first thing in the morning, where schools competed against each other in a variety of trades. Over 250 students showcased their talent in hair, bridal hair and make-up, fantasy hairstylist, nail art, small engine, welding, carpentry, masonry, tire changing, cabinet making, cake decorating, culinary arts, desktop publishing and digital photography competitions.
To mark the occasion Real Reno’s HGTV host Jim Caruk was in town to encourage the youth to choose a job in the skilled trades.
“First and foremost we are short. Even with the kids coming in we are still going to be short,” explained Mr. Caruk. “The average age of a tradesman now is 54 to 55 and then there is a big gap.”
He added, “there isn’t a whole lot coming up and this country is in dire need of skilled trades. Other provinces are going over to Europe bringing in immigrants that are skilled trades people because we don’t have any here.”
When Mr. Caruk began his career as a sheet metalist back in 1973 a lot of people chose a career in the trades because the money was “really good.” However, with the IT (information technology) boom in the 1980’s the skilled trades industry suffered.
“From probably (that point) on the trades have kind of been shoved aside,” noted Mr. Caruk, “yet who is building the country, the trades people and we need them. The prices just keep going up and up and up because there is none out there. You want to do a renovation or anything in your house you are waiting constantly for a skilled guy or you say I am not going to wait and pick someone whose not skilled (and) you know what happens after that.”
This year 70 businesses set up shop. On the upper concourse there was a job fair. The main floor focused on skilled trades and in the parking lot skilled trades outdoor exhibitors were showcased. The carpentry teams also competed outside, building a shed and the pairs built a barbecue cover.
At the end of the day the carpentry projects were auctioned off to raise money for a bursary program for graduating high school students pursuing a career in the skilled trades.
Cyndi Mills is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist