Co-op education provides opportunities for next generation

By Darren Lum

This story is the first in a series of articles that will highlight
co-op placements.

Labour shortages are affecting communities across the
continent and Haliburton County is included.
The Highlands has seen exponential growth locally in
construction and an increase of new residents, who have
come to live here from urban areas, which has added to
the demands for services and the trades.
One solution to this shortage is co-operative education
said Haliburton Highlands Secondary School teacher
Jason Morissette, who helps facilitate and coordinate
the program that brings together employers willing to
teach and share their expertise and students interested in
learning and gaining experience and training in specific
fields of work.

“Practically every job site I’m going to these days is
saying that there is a labour shortage. And how do you
address part of that labour shortage is think big picture
and think of programs like this and think, wow, there is
a huge future right in there of students looking for an
opportunity to build skills. And many of them do love
living in their community. It’s the place they grew up.
They would like to reside and live in their community,
but also need career opportunities to do that and I think
that’s based on that partnership. If we are able to provide
those for them … see it as a social responsibility of community
to be able to do that and, you know what, the
employers I have they are amazing and they really, really
have great hearts and feel so proud and feel inspired
when they see young people want to pursue their career
path that they are in and have done.”

Morissette believes Haliburton County has the oldest
median age for trades people in the province and expects
a greater need for skilled workers when they retire. Also,
there will be economic benefits for the area, if the community
sees the value of the co-op program.

Co-op allows students to earn high school credits by
integrating course curriculum with learning at a work
placement. A placement that teaches a skilled trade to
students is referred to as an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship
Program (OYAP) placement. Students can earn up
to a maximum of 12 credits towards the Ontario Secondary
School Diploma (OSSD) through co-operative education.
Students are unpaid and can earn one credit for one
period of co-op, two credits for a half day of co-op, and
four for a full day of co-op. All insurance is covered by
the Trillium Lakelands District School Board while working
at their placement.

It is open to Grade 11 and 12 students, who are interested
in a variety of education pathways such as an
apprenticeship, college diploma, university degree,
or entering the workforce after graduating from high

Morissette admits he knew of the co-op program, but
not the myriad of opportunities for skill building available
to students before taking it on three years ago.
“There is a real need for students to have these opportunities.
It’s a really, really great way that I don’t think a
lot of people are realizing and understanding. I can even
say after teaching in a class room for 25 years where I
taught different levels of student streaming in my classrooms,
but I’ve learned a lot just in what co-op is about
and what it can do for students and what it can do for
career pathways,” he said.

He adds co-op is an ideal opportunity to give teens
hands-on experience in placements for a potential career
path, which is a contrast from the predominant in-class
theoretical learning in high school.

It also helps to break down perceived barriers.
“Give opportunities to everyone. I’ve had many girls
pursuing the trades. We have to break down those barriers.
They’ve been awesome. They’ve been amazing.
Highly successful,” he said. “I think of history. During
the war years – I taught that in school myself – all
of these amazing woman were building all of our stuff
for years and doing an incredible job. I think everybody
understands and knows they’re incredibly skilled. We
need them and so I’m passionate about making those
connections as well and had several success stories just in
the little time I’ve been doing it,” he said.

There are other benefits for students, who not only
receive practical skill development, but also gain perspective
about the purpose and function of education for
“What co-op can do for students is it can really teach
students about the things employers are looking for. It
can help them make connections. It can help build practical
skills, life skills. When I say practical skills I’m saying
taking some of that school theory that they’ve been learning
for years and years and now actually – what I hear
from students – is I’m actually going to use this,” he said.
He adds co-op can provide the first-hand glimpse into
a student’s chosen field to decide if it’s what they want to
do and if it’s worth the investment of time and money to
pursue following high school.

Co-op can be beneficial to some students, who don’t
learn as effectively by listening to a lecture as they do by
getting to do something.
“Everybody learns differently. Many, many students
are very kinesthetic and in school in many ways sometimes
we’ve gotten away from kinesthetic learning programs.
A lot of programs, again, some kids are stuck at
a desk. They’re not moving around. They’re not using
their hands and being mobile,” he said.
None of this is possible without the participation of the
community, who opens their doors to mentor and teach
the students, sharing their expertise and experience,
Morissette said.

“It is the community that volunteers and partners to
allow the kids – I say this to the students – the privilege.
It’s not a right. It’s a privilege and an earned privilege to
go out and be partnered with a community volunteer,”
he said.

He adds employers want students to come with literacy
and mathematics skills learned in school, but also
want them to come with an openness to learning, willing
to work, and to take responsibility in fulfilling duties.
He stresses co-op is for all students whatever their
aspirations may be.

“You might be pursuing an apprenticeship program at
college. You might be pursuing a college program. You
might be pursuing university and you may be pursuing
direct employment out of high school. The biggest thing
[about co-operative education is] we have to think about
is we can’t be narrow minded [and think it’s] just an
opportunity to build people into the skilled trades. No, if
you look at co-op throughout the province co-op is really
encouraged for every student to have the benefit or the
opportunity to try this out,” he said.

He adds these placements can be the first employment
experience for some students and has the potential to
lead to summer work for students.
“I said to my students your co-op placement in many
cases every day is a tryout. So, treat it like a tryout where
you’re going and trying your best. You’re learning. Your
employer knows you’re young and maybe they know
that you’re inexperienced. You should know that too.
The biggest thing is try your best and no matter what try
do be and always be conscious of being safe all the time,”
he said.

After 25 years as a teacher, Morissette said he wasn’t
entirely clear on what the Specialist High Skills Major
program was about until he started coordinating co-op.
It enables students to focus on a career path to match
their skills and interests while meeting the requirements
of the OSSD.

Students can earn a SHSM seal on their diploma when
they complete eight to 10 courses related to their selected
field of study, earn industry certifications such as first aid
and CPR qualifications, and learn skills on the job during
the co-op placement.
Through SHSM, there is a pathway to earn a Red Seal

Formally known as the Interprovincial Standards Red
Seal Program, the program sets common standards to
assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada. The Red
Seal endorsement is earned by trade workers who have
passed the Red Seal examination.
There’s also the dual credit program, the accelerated
OYAP program, he said, which enable a select group of
students in the province to earn high school and college
credits at the same time. Last year, there were two HHSS
students who took carpentry courses at Durham College
while attending high school. Both are now working in
carpentry in Haliburton County.

“When I look at that that motivates,” he said.
Co-op also offers students an opportunity to register
with the OYAP.
When students register they are entered in the system
and can become an apprentice and earn hours in high
school towards college requirements in specific fields to
be a marine tech, carpenter, and plumber, he said. He
adds a plumber needs a little more than 8,000 hours to
earn a license, an electrician needs a little more than 8,000
hours so getting hours in high school will help expedite
the process of becoming a trade professional.
The advancement of technology has also added to education
requirements for students.

“Technology is just going up and up and up. What’s
going inside a car or a truck is just getting more and
more [technologically advanced]. Students need to be
educated in this and if they can be educated in OYAP
and transfer those hours over their licensing can come
sooner. The huge part of this is if the employer is happy
with what they’re seeing and want to take on an apprentice
now you sign the Registered Trade Agreement
(RTA). I’ve done a couple of them. I’d love to be able to
do more of them with students in our area because that
is the ultimate to see a young student already in high
school signed up as an apprentice knowing they’re going
to be taken in by an expert and shown [how and what
to do] for the next four or five years and get their license
for the future. That’s like being accepted in the program
of their dreams,” he said. “The hard part is to get
those RTAs. If we want our students to have these future
opportunities and to have better skilled training and
make those links and, again, retain them in our area for
our economy, more RTAs are going to need be signed, as
the next generation comes up and the other generation
retires who’s going to be building those homes. Whose
going to be fixing our cars?”

The long-time teacher encourages community partners
to contact him about placements by calling him at the
high school 705-457-2950