Friday, December 10, 2010

Ms. Skills – From the Executive Director

Ontario Improves Skilled Trade System

For the past 22 years we have been promoting careers in the skilled trades and technologies as viable, first choice career options for young people.  We have had many wonderful success stories and have encouraged many students across the province to pursue a very rewarding career choice.

Despite these accomplishments our team still has a big mountain to climb – the mountain of misconception.  How do we enhance the value, or importance, of skilled trade and technological careers in our society?

Careers in medicine, law, and education are respected career choices – as they should be, because they are important.  But where would these professionals perform their work without qualified tradespeople to design, construct and maintain our hospitals, courthouses and schools?

Many of the professions mentioned above have a regulatory body, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, College of Nurses and the Ontario College of Teachers.  These professional bodies have a very important function, such as issuing licenses, advocating on behalf of the profession, and improving the knowledge and skills of its members.  It also gives these professions credibility and garners greater respect from the public.

In the Fall of 2009, the Government of Ontario established the Ontario College of Trades.  The College of Trades will be a regulatory body that gives industry a greater role in recruitment, governance, certification and apprenticeship training.  It will also give the skilled trades a professional regulatory body similar to teachers, doctors and nurses.

I was proud to have been one of nine industry leaders chosen to serve as the Appointments Council and interim Board for the Ontario College of Trades.  The College will establish a framework of fees to support itself, and develop a complaints, enforcement and discipline system to govern its members.

As a member of the Council I was able to recommend that Kevin Piunno, a past competitor from the Ontario Technological Skills Competition, design a new website for the College. 

Kevin, a 2nd-year student from Niagara College, has been competing at the Ontario Technological Skills Competition since he was a secondary school student at the Niagara District School Board.  As a secondary school competitor, Kevin earned a gold medal in 2008 and a silver medal in 2009 in the Website Development contest.  Kevin competed in Website Development again in May 2010 as a post-secondary school student, earning his second gold medal.

The Ontario College of Trades website ( will be launched very soon.  Good work, Kevin!

We know we still have a large part of the mountain to climb, however with the establishment of the College of Trades, we are one step closer to the summit.

For information on the College of Trades, visit

Monday, December 6, 2010

Skills Work!® for Women – Jessica Steffler, Civil Engineering Technologist

One of the best hidden secrets about skilled trade and technology careers is that they often open doors to a variety of other career experiences.  From business management and ownership, engineering or architecture to law and teaching, many journeypersons, technicians and technologists can find themselves in any number of different fields.

Jessica Steffler is just one of those people.  A graduate of the Civil Engineering Technologist program at Conestoga College, Jessica always exhibited strong skills in math, and was introduced to the civil construction industry through her father.  Civil Engineering Technologists have a wide range of duties, including design and preparation of construction drawings, planning and scheduling projects and conducting field and laboratory tests on soils, asphalt and concrete.

Despite enjoying the work, it didn’t take Jessica very long to recognize that there was a shortage of good, skilled workers, and one major barrier to filling those spaces:  “the misconceptions that educators and parents have about working in careers in construction and skilled trades.” 

After four years in the industry, Jessica started a new organization – the Ontario Civil Construction Careers Institute.  As Director of the organization, her days are spent in extensive travel around Ontario, speaking to high school students about careers in civil construction, engineering and skilled trades.  She also created the website, posters, literature and resources for guidance departments, allowing her to draw on her creativity and people skills.

In this position Jessica gets to travel and meet new people all the time.  Every day is different, and she continually inspires students to try something new, and helps them get into apprenticeships.  She would like to see the OCCCI expand significantly over the next five years.

Jessica has been involved with Skills Canada – Ontario for the last two years, promoting civil construction careers at our Summer Camp and Young Women’s programs.  The similar aims between the two organizations created a natural partnership between the two organizations.

This fall, Jessica has mentored at a number of “Skills Work!® for Women” Networking Dinners this year, the most recent being the Toronto Networking Dinner, held on November 23.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Skills Work!® for Women – Brenda Swystun, Project Manager

Some people are lucky enough to pursue a career that fascinates and impassions them.  Brenda Swystun is an even more fortunate person: the trades pursued her.  Sometimes I guess your path is laid out before you but it’s up to you to make the most out of the opportunity.” 

As the former Plant Manager for Lafarge Concrete, Brenda secured the Sault Hospital foundations project, an undertaking that included a substantial amount of concrete with very specific requirements.  She has been a part of the building materials industry since leaving high school.

These days, Brenda can be found at Huckson Plumbing and Renovations, working as a Project Manager.  The organization focuses on residential renovation, which can be as simple as a tub replacement or as complex as a full kitchen renovation.

Her role involves her in all parts of a project, starting from estimates and sales, through material and labour scheduling to ensuring customer satisfaction at the end.  As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Brenda admits that she turned a few heads when she first started in the material building trades. 

Having a woman show up on a major commercial project seemed to create a bit of a work slow-down.  I kept myself focused on my job responsibilities and eventually my customers came to respect my contributions to their projects.”  Brenda was even recently elected President of the construction association in the Sault Ste. Marie area.

Despite all the knowledge she has gained about plumbing, drywall and interior finishing, and concrete manufacturing, Brenda’s most valuable skill is a surprising one.

“The most important skill I find I use on a regular basis is communication.  Between the demands of supervising employees and dealing with the private sector I find that my verbal skills for either sales or managing the staff are my most powerful tool.”  Over the next five years, Brenda hopes to increase the renovation projects that are taken on by Huckson, and strongly encourages other young women to pursue similar careers.

“Building things is not gender specific, it’s a natural talent.   There’s an artistic component to any trade, you need to be able to visualize what you want and then don’t be afraid to try and make it.  It may take a while but eventually you will possess the skills and knowledge to get the job done well.”

Brenda mentored students at the Sault Ste. Marie “Skills Work!® for Women” Networking Dinner on November 25th.