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How to get a job in home improvement

Canada’s 70-billion-dollar home renovation industry has created a demand for more builders, plumbers, electricians, and many others. With that in mind, spoke with three instructors from Durham College’s School of Skilled Trades, Apprenticeship & Renewable Technology (START) to gain an understanding of what it takes to get started in the various trades required by the home renovation industry.

“Almost all trades will have a shortage in the near future, as the workforce is aging,” says plumbing professor and industry expert Richard Lamarche. “There are a lot of trades people nearing the end of their careers.”

Just how serious is the demand for skilled trades people? Don Fishley, a licensed carpenter and program co-ordinator of the Sustainable Carpentry Program offers a glimpse.

“At recent job fair we were told there was a huge demand for carpenters, carpenter’s helpers and crane operators, particularly in the Edmonton area,” says Fishley. “They were looking for as many as 1000 crane operators, and up to 75,000 carpentry related tradesmen.”


Not surprisingly, different trades require different aptitudes. Someone interested in becoming an electrician should be proficient in mathematics and have an understanding of physics and sciences, a mechanical aptitude along with a good understanding of basic math and physics is required for a future plumber, while carpentry demands an aptitude for technical math. However, that’s not all.

“Skilled trades work is physically demanding,” says Lamarche. “Some days you will be working in unpleasant environments, i.e. cold, heat, dirt, heights, etc.”

“If you don’t like the outdoors, or the heat or the cold bother you, this career may not be the best choice,” adds Fishley.

The Learning Experience

Skilled trades programs like Durham College’s START are typically 2-year long (although this may vary depending upon the trade) and have a combination of hands-on and in class learning. This provides a well-rounded education and essential training in the tools of their future trade.

“Students learn through lectures, discussions and a large amount of hands on lab work,” says Electrical professor Robert Kidd, who also has particularly strong words for any individuals attempting to circumvent the formal learning and certification process in his field. “Without a license you are not an electrician and you are working outside the law,” he admonishes. “When you are caught, you will be subject to very large fines and can be held liable for any incorrect work that you have done”.

From Apprentice to Owner

Many people who get into the skilled trades dream of becoming their own boss. So, we asked our trio of experts about what the road from apprentice to owner looks like. Not surprisingly, the consensus is that this particular road is paved with a lot of hard work and dedication.

“You first need to get someone to take you on as an apprentice and complete your school successfully, as well as the necessary hours,” says Kidd. “After that you need to work in the field for a few years and then you would need to get your masters license and your business license”.

Filling the gaps

Attrition is a very real issues for the Canadian skilled trades, with many older trades people nearing retirement age, and a shortage of younger workers to fill the gap.

“For the last decade I have noted that many individuals felt the only field to be in was IT/computer related jobs,” Fishley laments. “There is now a shortage of good trades people and I believe that for the next decade or longer trades will be the areas that will need to be filled”.

If you have an interest in getting into the skilled trades, your best first step is to find a good post-secondary program, such as START at A good job in a great industry could be waiting for you.

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