Skills for the Future: Skills/Competences Canada and Let’s Talk Science Partnership

Let’s Talk Science is celebrating five years of partnership with the national body of Skills/Competences Canada (SCC)! Let’s Talk Science isn’t the only one celebrating a 25th anniversary; SCC will be hosting their 25th Skills Canada National Competition (SCNC) in Halifax, NS this spring. The National and Provincial/Territorial Skills Canada bodies as well as Let’s Talk Science are committed to engaging Canada’s future skilled workforce.

The goals of Let’s Talk Science and SCC overlap on the topic of career information for youth. SCC is specifically promoting careers in the skilled trades and technologies. Young people don’t always equate STEM with skilled trades, yet these are among the most varied career opportunities that are accessible with a STEM foundation. All skilled trades programs require STEM courses for entrance and/or utilize STEM knowledge/skills in their practice.

“Many people have the impression of skilled trades as being academically inferior to other post-secondary programs. Nothing could be further from the truth!” said Craig White, Education Program Consultant at Let’s Talk Science and Board of Director President of SCC Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Many skilled trades programs require a high level of math and/or science for entrance. Like all career sectors, the skilled trades workplace is being changed by technology. Careers in skilled trades require problem solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and a lifelong learning perspective. STEM courses and programs help provide youth with these skills and abilities.”

In 2017-2018, Let’s Talk Science added over 100 career profiles and over 15 interviews with skilled trade professionals thanks to contributions from Skills Ontario and the Automotive Industries Association of Canada. Our commitment to providing French-language resources meant that we also added 50 career profiles and 70 career-related videos. This April 2019 we worked with Skills Canada New Brunswick to complete video recordings and profiles of more skilled trades workers. This partnership will add five new French language career videos and five new English language videos. These will be available on our site soon!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question that every young person gets asked. The answer is key to his or her personal future, and the collective response also shapes our nation’s future. There is a strong need for students to build skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and it’s our job to help them.

Let’s Talk Science is focused on helping youth develop the skills and characteristics they need to thrive in the coming decades of global complexity and change. Our programs tap into their curiosity, help them build skills and forge critical connections between STEM and education communities. Regardless of where their career plans will take them, youth need to have a strong grounding in STEM knowledge and skills.

Closing doors

According to our Spotlight on Science Learning reports:

  • Approximately 70% of Canada’s top jobs now require some level of STEM. Yet most Canadian youth disengage from STEM studies before high school graduation.
  • Less than 50% of high school students graduate with senior STEM courses, and only 22% of Canadian youth express a lot of interest in pursuing science at the post-secondary level.

Many teenagers choose their post-secondary path without realizing the magnitude of the decision they’re making until they are in their mid-20s. By the time students apply for skilled-trades training, college or university, it’s too late to find out that they are unprepared in prerequisite courses or the experience required to pursue a number of career options. Approximately half of all programs at college and university are not available to students who lack high school math or science.

Need for STEM in ALL careers

Industry and academic leaders say virtually any job demands the skills and knowledge that exposure to STEM nurtures. Employers are looking for specific skill combinations - not just technical capabilities, but also critical thinking skills, problem solving, communication and teamwork, and other qualities that help drive companies forward through innovation. STEM learning opportunities build those critical skills as well as technical competence.
 

The Council of Canadian Academies has identified three types of STEM skills:

  1. Fundamental skills – includes reasoning, mathematics, problem solving and technological literacy, all of which are important regardless of occupation.
  2. Practical skills – developed through training in technologies, applied sciences and the trades.
  3. Advanced skills – these enable engagement in discovery or applied research, including development of new technologies.

How we support students and volunteers

Across all audiences, our evaluations show that Let’s Talk Science improves attitudes, builds confidence and supports the development of key skills. For some of our volunteers, we even help launch careers.

“It has helped me grow in capacities I never knew I was capable of,” said Reem Ghaleb, coordinator for Let’s Talk Science Outreach at the University of Calgary in Alberta. “I feel like I’m running a small business, which is huge for a student. You learn so many skills. While peers in my class have been just learning about these theories, I’ve been practicing them.”

Aaron Persad, a Let’s Talk Science Outreach volunteer at the University of Toronto, applied to the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Astronaut Recruitment Program in 2016.

“It helped to say I volunteer for an organization that brings science to youth and the public. The skills to be an astronaut include the ability to work with and motivate others, resourcefulness, and being able to communicate why science is important. These are all skills I’ve developed as a Let’s Talk Science volunteer.”

Directly and indirectly, a huge and growing number of jobs require some type of science-based knowledge, from understanding the basics to having a more deep-rooted foundation. And all jobs demand the sort of thinkers – analytical, curious, problem solvers – that exposure to science education nurtures.

This isn’t just a matter of fostering more interest in science as a narrowly defined career. It’s about conveying the idea that STEM knowledge increasingly applies to careers of the future, and is important throughout your life. It is true that technology is changing the workplace and displacing workers. It is also true that new technology creates more jobs than it replaces. Workers with a strong STEM background are able to move into these new openings.

Canada must focus on building a strong STEM talent pool with the skills to contribute to our country’s long-term prosperity. Ultimately, these skills lie in at least some form of science literacy,” says Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, President and Founder of Let’s Talk Science.

“We need to inform our youth of the importance of STEM courses for their future careers, engage them in experiential science learning from an early age, and sustain their interest in science throughout their studies. This will take collaborative effort – educators, parents, youth, industry, non-profit organizations and government – to ensure Canada has a bright future ahead.”

Responsibility of guidance counsellors and parents

Preparing Canadian youth for thriving as productive employees and citizens is a shared responsibility among educators, parents, industry, governments, non-profit organizations, and other societal influences. These players need to help youth be aware of the diverse careers, including the skilled trades, that will not be options for those who choose to opt out of senior-level math, science and technology courses at the secondary school level.

“If you’re going to be successful and rise to the top in whatever choice in profession or discipline you end up working in, basic skills or knowledge of STEM is only going to stand you in good status; it’s going to position you for success.” David Mitchell, president and CEO, Public Policy Forum, in our 2013 Spotlight on Science Report.

The future prospects

Many jobs that will be/are in high demand rely heavily on STEM skills. According to the Conference Board of Canada, one million skilled workers will be needed in Canada by 2020.

“If only 37 percent of Canadian teens are interested in taking a science course at the post-secondary level, what does that mean to Canada’s future?”said Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo Inc. and former Team Canada Intel-ISEF member in an interview for our 2012 Spotlight on Science Report.

“Science, technology, engineering and math education is about more than just facts and figures; it’s about rewarding jobs in a wide variety of fields, a thriving economy, not to mention new innovations and unlocking a bright and successful future for our children. That’s why as a parent, I hope my children’s imaginations will spark new ideas through science. The opportunities are boundless.”

Today’s youth and tomorrow’s economy will succeed through greater capabilities in problem-solving, critical thinking, and experimentation. Meaningful exposure to STEM engagement supports and encourages such talents, attitudes and ingenuity.