It’s time for Asian parents to change their view of trades jobs

posted on August 10, 2014

By Chuck Chiang, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Chuck Chiang, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says recent figures show young Canadians graduating from trade schools and vocational training have significantly higher employment rates than those who graduated from university.

That’s because vocational training targets specific fields where Canadian employers are experiencing a skilled-labour shortage, Kenney said.

And that explains the main reason for Kenney’s visit to Vancouver last week, ­announcing $3.3 million in funding to help the B.C. government speed up recognition here of immigrants’ credentials so they can get jobs in their field faster.

But that is only one part of the solution — directing young Canadians is the other. And a key challenge in redirecting young Canadians to the trades — especially those of Asian backgrounds — is something immigrant communities should already be very familiar with: Parents.

“There are inadequate number of people going into technical and vocational training,” Kenney told Chinese-language media during their meeting in West Vancouver. “We need coders, welders, mechanics, people who do their jobs with their hands — and not something abstract. … Instead of going to university, we want them to know that they can have very successful careers coming out of vocational programs.

“But one key issue here are the parents. We see, especially in immigrant parents, that they often say to their children, ‘We didn’t work so hard — to move you to Canada — to have you not go to university.’ It’s good to want your children to excel, but we want them to know that vocational programs can also give their children a bright future.”

Personally, I remember my parents saying during my high school years that “going to university isn’t one option; it’s the only option.” They were none too pleased when my brother found a calling at BCIT’s audio engineering program, preferring he enrol in an online university simply because it had “university” in its name.

In East Asian cultures dominated by Confucianism, education, especially at big-name institutions — is often the only goal children should aspire to, according to parents. Children getting into Ivy League schools often become bragging points in parents’ conversations with their peers. South Asian families put stress their children’s education as a way to ensure they ascend the social ladder and earn a respectful living.

Few families view carpentry, welding, heavy-equipment operation or plumbing as a respectful living. Quite frankly, that’s an attitude that needs to change.

I had the fortune to work for about a year in Fort McMurray, the Alberta oilsands city, in 2008. The number of good-paying jobs there can be seen reflected in the astronomical prices in rental housing — rents for a two-bedroom apartment there rivals (and sometimes exceeds) those seen in Metro Vancouver. To say there is no gainful employment to be had there would be plain ignorant, and the situation isn’t much different in BC’s Interior, where a family friend reported a six-figure salary working in 100 Mile House.

The trend among BC’s first- and second-generation Asian-Canadians in recent years is backflow — in the thousands — to places like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Taipei to find work. And often, it isn’t because there’s no work to be had in B.C. — it’s because their commerce, marketing, sociology, or journalism degrees don’t allow them to pursue much here.

If Canadian society is to better integrate immigrant families and to operate more efficiently as an economy, it needs to ensure second-generation Canadians — many of them extraordinarily capable — find their place within Canada’s borders. And Asian-Canadian parents — both as parents and as Canadians — have the responsibility to overcome their preconceptions and help ensure their children find prosperous paths most conducive to their personalities and abilities.

Sometimes, pursuing those opportunities means to become a trades worker, like a carpenter or an electrician. Jobs like those carry very little prestige in Asia — but this is Canada, and the rules are different. The worst barrier for young second-generation Canadians to getting such potentially jobs may not be themselves, but the rigid mental perceptions passed down from generations of traditional, Asian culture — often delivered through parental units.

The setting in Canada, however, is dramatically different than that of traditional Asian society. Shouldn’t the parental perception be different as well?

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