By Darren Lum
Published March 27 2018
The Haliburton County Home Builders Association is setting the foundation to meet the changing demands of the construction industry in the Highlands.
With more and more construction workers retiring there is greater need for skilled workers to fill the void in a field that is an economic driver in Haliburton County said Andrew Brown of Greg Brown Construction a Home Builders member.
To address this need the Home Builders are working on a long-term plan that includes working with the local high school and its educators in an effort to inform students about the potential for employment in the construction industry said Brown.
“The construction industry is one of the largest industries in Haliburton but the workforce is not being rebuilt and replenished. Until recently the school system has not shown much interest in sending graduates directly into the trades” Brown said.
The 2001 Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate along with his younger brothers Benton 29 and Jordan 28 who are also HHSS graduates help with the family business started by their father.
Brown remembers when he and his brothers were encouraged to go to university and there wasn’t much mention of other options.
He doesn’t regret getting a bachelor of arts in communications studies from Laurier University. He’s used his education to help run the family business for the past 12 years which he does with his dad and two younger brothers. However he hopes that the school could move toward encouraging all teens to consider construction as a viable employment option.
He believes there are plenty of jobs and potential for careers in the trades and construction in the Highlands.
Brown’s opinion is supported by the Work Development Board statistics: Real estate leads with 236 of registered businesses second is specialty trade contractors at 104 and professional scientific and technical services is 100 while construction of buildings is 72. The top four industries (with employees) the WDB has the specialty trade contractors at the top with 91 number of registered businesses followed by construction of buildings then professional scientific and technical services at 44 and then food services and drinking places at 31.
WDB is a not-for-profit organization located in Peterborough and serves Northumberland Peterborough Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton. I
Brown said this effort was motivated in part by his visits to the high school as guest speaker since 2010. It also came from a desire to not just help the local trades but also help students see there are options.
Brown possesses a diverse set of skills owed to working here.
He is a licensed carpenter and septic installer and designer and a geothermal installer and designer. This is common for construction workers in the Highlands and sets local workers apart from others outside the area particularly when they seek work outside of the area.
Part of this effort includes the provision of a new tool belt complete with tools valued close to $150. It will be earned by the student who achieves the highest grade in a construction-related course at the school.
It was presented to the school a couple of weeks ago and will be used as a teaching aid for teachers illustrating the typical tools required on a job site. This tool belt takes the place of the annual Home Builders’ bursary that was awarded at the end of the year to a student. Aggie Tose of the Home Builders came up with the idea to have the belt replace the past bursary worth a similar dollar value.
Brown attributes the tool belt idea to HHSS teacher Dan Fockler.
Fockler who heads up the technical business department said it came from a practical approach to reach his students.
“I thought if they had a visual for ‘here are some things you must show up with when you go to work.” He adds it makes a connection between the tools used in school to what is required on a job site. Additionally he said it makes the students realize what is learned in school can be transferred into the real world of work.
Early last week the tool belt was put in the showcase glass case outside the custom woodworking room in the technical wing of the high school. It will subsequently be brought into the classroom and used as a teaching aid.
After teaching for more than 16 years Fockler appreciates lessons to make students believe school is relevant to their future.
“I would hope it would give them something to grab onto [making them think] even if I don’t know what I want to do there are options for me when I leave [high school]. Really when you leave high school at 17 it’s a tall order to ask what they want to do for a career so if we can get them working and then jobs always lead to other jobs. Success breeds success kind of stuff. Hopefully some of them will stay in the trades where they enjoy doing” he said.
Fockler stresses what is most important for students is that they believe in themselves which can lead to success in life.
The learning opportunities while working on the job are great for young people Brown said.
While working on the construction of a house there is a lot of learning particularly with individuals who are paying attention and who are taking the initiative. It’s a common practice in the area to get workers to perform a variety of tasks.
“In the course of a summer they can pick up a huge variety of work from how to drywall deck construction framing walls almost everything depending on what your business is doing at the time” Brown said.
Experience is an asset but equally as important for a worker is the ability and willingness to learn Brown said.
“If they have their wits with them they can absorb all that information quite quickly. You do that for two or three years you can build a house from top to bottom” he said.
One of the key lessons he taught students during his guest speaking at the high school is to pay attention in school.
“So don’t just neglect the stuff as something you’ll never use even if you’re going into English or history because if you want to improve the house you’re living in (because you will live in a house eventually) you might need to know this. So pay attention” he said.
Brown points out he uses math in work every day whether it’s fractions angles decimals or volume including trigonometry. He has on occasion needed to use a high school textbook.
Another component to the Home Builders plan to reach out to students is a panel event on March 29 for Grade 11 and 12 students. The panel will include construction representatives from a variety of disciplines and include time for questions and answers held at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion.
This panel will benefit teens but also parents and guardians who may already work in the field and need support with making youth understand a career in the trades.
“Don’t just believe me because I do it. Believe all these business owners and all these industry people so if we’re able to do that we can push that for the parents to let them know you can talk to your students about working in the trades. It’s not embarrassing” Brown said.
During the career day on April 25 at the high school there will be a strong presence from the construction industry he said.
Brown contacted the Trillium Lakelands District School Board and was told training the certifications such as First Aid Fall Arrest and WHIMIS is available for more than just the environmental specialist high skills major program students.
Brown said this opportunity does more than educate. It gives an edge when it comes to employment.
At his company a student out of high school working this summer could earn anywhere from $16 to $20 depending on experience and training.
Brown said a labourer could start at the low end of the pay scale but could receive a $2 wage increase in a short time if he/she has the right attitude.
“Attitude is No. 1. … They don’t know anything but have a great attitude that’s 90 per cent of it” he said.
This idea doesn’t just apply to the construction field but in everything. It’s a lesson he has brought up on several occasions he has spoken as a guest speaker at the high school.
This approach is part of a grand attempt to act on filling the gap.
He acknowledges results aren’t expected this year.
The long-term goal for the Home Builders is to keep the construction industry foremost on the minds of educators “as a viable career for future income – steady income at that.”
Brown said the need by employers is province wide. What is done here he said could be an example for others to follow.