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Unique program sets local students up for successful trades careers

Program 'a great way to prepare for the future and get motivated,' OSS student says after signing OYAP agreement with local company

Macguire Ferguson is only 16 years old, but he already has a leg up when it comes to an eventual career.

On Tuesday, the Grade 11 student at Orillia Secondary School signed an agreement to start an apprentice-based co-op placement with Strongman Electrical Services in Severn Township, through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP).

While he still has a number of years of high school and, eventually, trades school to go to become an electrician, Ferguson is already convinced a skilled trade is best for him.

“I like working with my hands. I can’t stand sitting at a desk,” he said. “I like the feeling of accomplishing physical stuff.”

That’s the way it’s been for about as long as he can remember.

“We never had electronics when I was little, so I’d always be outside, making zip lines, playing with my hands,” he said.

Correction: There were some electronics in the house; he just took a different kind of interest in them.

“In junior kindergarten, he was tearing DVD players apart,” his mother, Lisa, said of her ever-curious son.

Taking part in OYAP provides an advantage to students. They get to complete their co-op placement in a skilled trades environment while completing high school. The 500 hours of co-op work will count toward the 9,000 hours required at trades school.

The province will provide money along the way, including $2,000 upon successful completion of a final exam at trades school.

Ferguson wasn’t aware of all of the perks when he inquired about OYAP. He has been saving money for his post-secondary education, and now he knows he can put some of those savings to another use.

He’s thinking big for a teen.

“I want to buy a house and just be happy,” he said, referring to OYAP and the province’s trades incentives as “a great way to prepare for the future and get motivated.”

His mom was also surprised to learn about the different ways OYAP can help prepare her son for the future.

“The program is awesome. It sets him up from a really young age — basically, for life — and he has mentors to help him along the way,” she said.

Matt Strongman, owner of Strongman Electrical Services, has two high school co-op students at his company and is about to bring on a third. He described it as a “win-win.”

“It gives the students an opportunity to find out if this is what they want to do. They get to learn and they’re helping us out at the same time,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a good experience. I would recommend it to other employers, for sure.”

There is no cost to the employer to bring on a student through OYAP, which is another draw of the program.

“Because of the need for skilled trades, a lot of employers are catching on to this,” said Orillia Secondary School principal Pete Bowman. “It really makes it amazing for the employer and phenomenal for the kid.”

He attends as many of his students’ OYAP agreement signings as possible, and Ferguson’s was his school’s third of the day.

Bowman said it’s important for students and their parents to know about the opportunities presented through OYAP and what it can lead to — often a more fulfilling and better-paying career.

“Orillia’s got a lot of opportunity and the students need to know that,” he said. “It’s a very smart career option.”

Elaine McLachlin agreed. The OYAP co-ordinator with the Simcoe County District School Board noted about 86 per cent of students have stayed on with their co-op employers after graduating high school.

Ferguson isn’t sure where he’ll end up in the future, but he’s happy with where his trades journey is starting — at Strongman Electrical Services, where he has been a co-op student for more than a month.

“I’m glad I got put here,” he said. “It’s in the electrical category and I really like the people.”

McLachlin encourages students and parents to consider their options.

“Give thought to what kind of person their child is,” she said, adding an interest in problem solving and hands-on work — like that exhibited by Ferguson — might mean a skilled trade is an ideal path for students.

Those interested in learning more about OYAP can speak with the co-op or guidance staff at their schools or visit the OYAP website.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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