Free post-secondary for those under 19

Post secondary-level courses for free? Too good to be true?

Post secondary-level courses for free? Too good to be true?

Not if you are a Cowichan Valley student under the age of 19.

David Bellis, vice-principal in charge of Cowichan Adult Learning Centre, says there are lots of opportunities just waiting to be picked up.

And this is a good time to check them out, especially if you are one of the many students considering a career in one of the skilled trades.

“There’s a huge shortage of tradespeople that is looming in British Columbia. It’s staggering. All the Baby Boomer trades workers getting ready to retire. It’s that same demographic bubble. The projection is for an unbelievable shortage of people to fill those jobs. It’s one of the reasons that immigration regulations are being changed to allow people to come into Canada. It’s not just our warm and generous attitude, it’s about the economy,” Bellis said.

So government funding is coming forward to help train workers and universities are also stepping up with courses.

Hairdressing, welding, carpentry, residential building maintenance worker, and refrigeration air conditioning mechanic programs are all offered.

On top of that, in health care, there will soon be a massive shortfall of workers.

“There are still a large number of older nurses who are working, and working 12-hour shifts. I know. Anything to do with health care is definitely part of it. And, as the Island’s population is itself getting older, we need people to look after us. Health care is also pretty golden right now, along with the trades,” he said.

Training new workers in these areas is key, so students, while still in high school, can take certain university-level courses, free of charge.

The students even use the credits for their graduation before taking them on to university.

That’s why the courses are called dual credit courses.

And, as long as the students are under 19 on July 1 in the year they graduate, they can continue to take free courses at Vancouver Island University or Camosun.

“In the trades, even for graduated students, tuition is still covered, as long as they are under 19,” he said.

“And they are expensive courses. They are all incredibly expensive. Hairdressing is about $6,000. It’s 12 months. And there’s another $1,200 in books and supplies on top of that. Students are responsible for those things. We pay the tuition. These courses are all pricey but the government is so anxious to get students into trades and see them carry on into apprenticeships and get their Red Seal in those programs that they are really pushing these in high schools,” Bellis said.

And rightly so, he said, adding, “For a long time the trades have been considered the kind of second class citizens in schools. We have kind of pushed and pushed kids into academics even though we know, in a regular high school, maybe 15 per cent actually go on directly to college or university.”

Bellis thinks the change will help students.

“For many different reasons, I think it’s a really positive thing for students that the emphasis is shifting somewhat. There are lots of them that don’t want to go on to university. They are looking for a job for their skills. And the money they can make is very good.

“That stigma towards the idea of vocational courses is receding. These courses are practical. And the trades aren’t going away. Everybody needs electricians, plumbers, carpenters and framers. They are just going to be in even greater demand now that so many people are moving to B.C.”

That influx has affected schools in many ways, Bellis said.

“We had an unexpected increase of 6,500 students province-wide this year. A lot came from Alberta because of the downturn in the oil industry.”

The Cowichan Valley School District and VIU have been big in the push towards trades. As soon as any support and money showed its head over the horizon, they sprang into action.

“My predecessor, Ron Nunweiler, deserves a lot of credit for that. It was a great idea, taking an empty elementary school [Koksilah] located in the middle of an industrial park and morphing it into the perfect trades centre. It wasn’t a popular decision at the time but I think now Cowichan Tribes is very much onside because a lot of First Nations students are taking advantage of this,” he said.

The Cowichan Valley school district and VIU were able to get together with Tribes to offer a special program.

“One residential maintenance program that’s running right now is all First Nations. There was grant money available; VIU provided the instructor and Cowichan Secondary basically filled it with First Nations students eager to get those kinds of skills.”

The result has been excellent.

“A lot of kids had disconnected with school and were at risk. They are now doing something they are feeling pretty good about. And three or four of them are moving on to carpentry in term two. It’s nice to see that progression,” he said.

There’s room at the Trades Centre to expand, too.

“I sent out a survey to schools just before Christmas with a choice of three options that aren’t offered here at the local campus: electrical, plumbing and millwright. Electrical was the overwhelming choice, if we were going to add another trade locally. Plumbing was second,” he said.

Interested to find out more? Check first with the career counsellor at your school or call David Bellis at 250-746-0277 or 250-701-8743.