/Giving real world work experience key to prosperity
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School teacher Jason Morissette, who helps facilitate and coordinate the program encourages employers to contact him at (705) 457-2950 ext. 19440./DARREN LUM Staff FILE

Giving real world work experience key to prosperity

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

By Darren Lum

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 school. 

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 careers.

“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 members who open 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 certification.

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 enables 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 to be signed, as the next generation comes up and the other generation retires who’s going to be building those homes? Who’s 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 ext. 19440. In particular there is a shortage in the trades.