As a high school student strong in math and science, Amy Spiers took what seemed like the natural next step after graduation and earned a degree in geomatics engineering.
But after 12 years in the industry, Spiers craved something more creative and hands-on, which led her to an apprenticeship in carpentry.
“I’ve always loved building things,” said Spiers, now 37 and in her third year at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary.
Spiers is part of a growing number of people in Canada signing up for apprenticeships amid ongoing labour shortages in many of the skilled trades.
After plummeting during the pandemic, the number of people registering for apprenticeships has now bounced back and is at its highest level since 2014, according to the latest available data from Statistics Canada.
In 2022, 81,141 Canadians registered in an apprenticeship program, an increase of roughly 12 per cent from 2021.
The growing interest in the trades is good news for industries such construction and manufacturing that have struggled in recent years to find skilled workers, though the uptick in registrations hasn’t yet translated to a surge of certified tradespeople.
While all provinces and territories have seen an uptick in registrations, “it is Alberta, Quebec and Ontario that are leading this charge,” said Graham Ziegler, who heads the Canadian Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada.
The picture looks a little different in each province.
Quebec, for instance, saw most of its growth coming from enrolment in programs for carpenters and electricians, while Alberta saw most of its growth coming from apprentice electricians, plumbers, steamfitters, pipefitters and heavy-duty equipment mechanics.
The average employment income for a Red Seal Trade in Canada is $111,500, according to a recent report from the non-profit Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, though incomes vary significantly depending on the specific type of trade.
Industrial electricians, for example, earn around $182,200 a year, while hair stylists and barbers earn around $44,700, the report said.
The growing interest in various types of trades is playing out in the hallways and classrooms at SAIT, which is one of the country’s largest post-secondary institutions for apprenticeship education.
SAIT has seen a nearly 20 per cent increase in its apprentices in the last two years, from 5,494 in the 2021/2022 school year to 6,541 so far this year.
Officials expect that interest will continue to grow, and are adding another 1,000 apprenticeship seats for the upcoming school year to meet the anticipated demand.