There’s no question that there’s an urgent need for skilled trades professionals in this city and province. Finding people to work on construction sites is a real challenge for contractors as many current workers reach retirement age and few young people choose the trades as a career.
The Educational Partnership Foundation (TEPF) responded to the need with its Trades Career Program that was launched as a pilot project with the Calgary Board of Education in 2013, resulting in nearly 75 per cent of students enrolled now working as apprentices in their chosen trades.
It’s a different turn from the original thoughts of the Calgarians — including Doug Clovechuk, Jim Gray and Kevin Gregor — who founded the organization, that for the past 32 years has made a positive impact on the lives of young people by providing valuable learning and development opportunities.
That model has changed but TEPF still delivers major motivational tools to help kids enjoy the gift of reading and to stay in school — programs that all youth across the province can access.
TEPF has been blessed with a remarkably dedicated board and in 2017 long-time member and former board chair Barb Simic joined the leadership team, taking over the position of president and CEO in 2018. With over 30 years in the oil and gas industry in various capacities including finance, she served for 13 years as director of community investment at ConocoPhillips.
Always demonstrating an outstanding commitment to the community through leadership, strategic insight and the mentorship of others, Simic has steered through many positive initiatives of the organization, both long-standing and new ones.
The program called “Reading . . . Give it a Shot” provides an exciting opportunity to promote literacy that encourages parents to share in their children’s reading.
With the Calgary Flames as founding partner, students earn collector cards from a choice of Calgary Flames players, Canadian Wildlife, World Species at Risk or Dinosaurs, via supervised reading in 30-minute sessions.
Throughout 2022 the promotion reached an impressive 45,630 students who earned 1,124,000 cards. The program is well supported by digital printer DCM (Data Communications Management) and Johnson Insurance. One Transport delivers 90 per cent of the cards in Alberta. Simic is looking for additional sponsors at $20,000 who will have their names on cards, teaching materials and the organization’s web site.
Books for Kids is another TEPF program for kids up to Grade 3. Unfortunately, children living in lower income families — where family needs can take priority over learning — may have challenges reading at home. It is estimated that almost 25 per cent of Canadian households don’t have a single book. Low literacy levels place children at a disadvantage that perpetuates poverty.
However, 3,500 kids have picked free books of their choice, provided at a special discount by Scholastic Canada, one of the leading Canadian publishers and distributors of children’s books.
Programs costs are high, but fundraising is helped by TEPF’s annual golf tournament that last week at Valley Ridge raised over $180,000. A popular event for 22 years, it is eagerly attended by Legends of Sports who this year included former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon.
The Trades Career Program was launched thanks to some federal and provincial government money and partnerships with the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 496, and Ironworkers Local 725 in both Calgary and Lethbridge. Since then, it has introduced carpentry, electrical, millwright, teamsters, insulators and culinary. It recently added the first Indigenous, on-reserve program with Piikani and Paul Band First Nation.
Building Trades of Alberta affiliates provide the use of their training facilities as well as the red seal journeymen to educate students of Grades 11 and 12, or 16 years or older, who meet the requirements of being drug -and alcohol-free, punctual, responsible and reliable; and they must finish school.
Courses are free to the participants but cost around $10,000 per student; half is raised in-kind, but Simic and her team are looking for additional support to help the program be available for more students to help them find careers and ease the problem of the lack of skilled workers.
David Parker’s columns appear regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected] .