Skills in Review: Gail Smyth, Executive Director for Skills Canada
Ontario Looks Back at our Organization’s Beginnings
You’ve been with Skills Canada – Ontario (SCO) for 16 years. How did you get involved with Skills Canada Ontario?
I first became involved with Skills Canada in 1989 while working as a Community Liaison Officer with Conestoga College. I offered to volunteer with Skills Canada at their first national competition which was being held at Mohawk College, in Hamilton. I continued to volunteer with Skills Canada until 1997 when I became the Executive Director of Skills Canada – Ontario.
How has the Skills Canada organization changed or evolved over the years?
It has been amazing to witness the evolution of Skills Canada. I don’t think anyone could have imagined in 1989 that this very small organization in Barrie, Ontario would involve into a national organization with an office in every province and territory and a National Secretariat in Ottawa.
What are some of the key programs or initiatives offered by SCO?
The in-school presentation program is the largest outreach program offered in Ontario. With 87% of all high schools, 50% of all elementary schools and 100% of all community colleges in Ontario affiliated with this program, it takes 13 full-time Liaison Officers to facilitate this program. Offered in both official languages and also available to Aboriginal students across Ontario, our Liaison Officers impact the career choices of thousands of elementary and secondary school students every year. Since the inception of this program in 1998, we have met over 1,000,000 students!
This year marks SCO’s 25th Anniversary, how will your organization be highlighting this milestone?
On March 21st, we will be hosting a Celebration Gala at the Heritage Warplane Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.
In your opinion, what is currently the most pressing issue surrounding skilled trades? And how is SCO addressing this issue?
Providing parents with information about the tremendous opportunities available in skilled trades and technologies remains a major priority for us. In an endeavor to determine the need for this, we facilitated 30 parent presentations. The positive response that we received from these presentations clearly indicated that in order to help influence their children’s career choices, parents need up-to-date, relevant information. It is our hope that within the next year we will be able to introduce a parent presentation program.
What does the future hold for Skills Canada organizations, such as SCO ? Do you see your mandate changing as stakeholders become more aware of the opportunities that exist in skilled trades and technology careers?
I think our mandate will remain relevant as long as there is need for skilled workers and I believe that there will always be a need for skilled workers. I also think our mandate will expand to include outreach to employers in order to encourage them to open their doors to apprenticeship. It is discouraging for young people wanting to pursue a career in the skilled trades when they are unable to find an employer that will offer them an apprenticeship.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?
I believe that Skills Canada has realized its success because of the thousands of individuals who believe in the future of young people in Canada and who demonstrate their belief through volunteerism. Our success would not be possible without them. And on the behalf of the young people we serve, we owe them our deepest appreciation.