Ontario student can’t wait to teach trades in B.C.

An Ontario man hopes to soon be among those helping to address a critical shortage of trades and technology teachers in the province.

James Ross entered the two-year Trades Technology Teacher Education (TTTE) diploma program at Okanagan College last fall, after making the decision to move to Kelowna specifically for the program.

“In Ontario I could only get training in one trade, but here I can learn anything that is teachable – drafting, robotics, electronics, welding, automotive – it’s incredible,” said the 27-year-old.

Ross is one of only a handful of students who enrolled in the program at a time when the province is clamouring for shop teachers in B.C.’s secondary schools. The shortage is so critical that the provincial government includes Trades Technology Teachers as among those qualifying for its B.C. student loan forgiveness program – alongside other professions like midwives, nurses and pharmacists.

“We have the space, we have the skilled instructors here, what we need are students to understand how important and valuable this program really is,” said the College’s TTTE program administrator Nancy Ankerstein.

Juleen McElgunn, executive director of the BC School Superintendents’ Association, said school districts are faced with dual challenges – baby boomer retirements and skilled tradespeople in high demand elsewhere.

“This creates a challenge for districts as the pool of qualified trades and technology individuals is relatively small compared to other secondary or middle school level teaching areas,” she said.

Ross, who started working as a labourer in Grade 9 and eventually started his own carpentry business in 2010, believes part of the reason could also be that people simply don’t think of entering this field.

“Teaching the trades is really more of an academic field, than a trade,” he said. “I realized I wanted to be a teacher when I saw that helping people makes me happy. Then it was a pretty easy decision.”

The two-year program ladders into the Secondary Teacher Education program, offered at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Robert Rast, who graduated from the TTTE program in 2012 and is now taking his teacher training at UBC, is working alongside his sponsor teacher Dan Hurd from Mount Boucherie Secondary School in West Kelowna.

“My training in the TTTE program has been really beneficial because now I’m putting everything I learned to a huge test,” said Rast, who is using a variety of software programs he was trained on while at the College.

“In today’s technologies, the use of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) programs is becoming more prevalent,” he said. “I can use CNC to do laser cutting and the router for cutting out moulds as well to engrave words into the wood, or cut out select pieces, as you might in the case of a musical instrument.”

Hurd works closely with the College in his role as president of the Technology Education Local Specialty Association. He said it’s important for the public to know that teaching shop today is far more complex than it ever was.

“Teachers coming out now have to know about the technology, and have to always be willing to learn something new. My observation is there is a very strong group of students coming out of the TTTE program. Students like Rast have what it takes to be a fabulous teacher.”

For Okanagan College TTTE instructor Alf Leimert, whose job it is to help students understand how to turn their trade skills into teachable experiences for the classroom, the real key to teaching lies in passing on the passion.

“You need to get excited about teaching the trades. If you yourself are passionate about the subject you teach, then your students are also likely to pick up on your enthusiasm,” he said.

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EDS: Please find attached a jpg: Okanagan College student James Ross (seated on left) watches his classmate Charles Messinger demonstrate a project to Alf Leimert, instructor of the Trades Technology Teacher Education program.

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