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Recruiting trades students should start in high school: Minister

With Northern Lights College announcing yesterday that the recent $900,000 in funding from the province will go to create more seats in mining, welding, power engineering and oil and gas training, the question remains of how to get students to fill those seats.

Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto says it's important to spread a greater awareness that a future in trades can not only be fulfilling, but comes with an "incredibly high" initial wage, and immediate work placements in beautiful areas of the province.

"We need to have a public conversation about the value of trades, and put the same emphasis on getting a trades or technical or applied training education, that has the same value that we see in Europe, where to be a master of a certain craft is as prestigious as other professions."

She says the key to getting that message across is starting in the lower school years.

"When you're a kid, and someone asks you what you want to do, the first thing people think are doctors, lawyers and accountants and things like that," she says. "What we need to do is start that conversation in the K-12 system, so that students know what classes they need to take in order to become a plumber, or an electrician."

That's in line with a program system the Ministry of Education is coming out with, that includes trades opportunities as part of preparing students for post-secondary education. That includes raising awareness of what high school courses are needed for each career, as well as making credits transferable, so that changing programs is easier for students.

As for ensuring northeast B.C. has the best possible professors and staff to carry out the training, Yamamoto says that responsibility lies on the community.

"The community needs to be able to attract that with having housing and appropriate healthcare services, because that's what people look for when they want to join a community."

She also points to the value of providing training in the region, as they believe people will stay and work here as well. A similar practice was used for the first class of UBC's Northern Medical Program, although it's too soon to tell whether that was successful.

Overall, Yamamoto says a priority this school year will be ensuring the money invested in post-secondary education is relevant.

"That means listening to industry to ensure that we're providing the training for our students to fill those jobs that we know are coming up," she explains. "In order for us to recognize or take advantage of the incredible growth that we have, especially in the northeast, we know we have to have those people trained for those jobs."

The new trades-related seats at Northern Lights College will be created over the next year.