WOOD WORKING: Surrey school district churning out tradespeople

SURREY — At first glance, you wouldn’t guess Kennedy Hertzog is a carpenter. And admittedly, she never thought she’d be one either. But she is, and she’s not even out of high school yet.

The cheerful Grade 12 Clayton Heights Secondary student began working in early June and she can forget summer break – Hertzog will start full-time as soon as school is out.

This story wouldn’t be unfolding if it weren’t for Guildford Park Secondary’s program, which turns 16 students into carpenters every year. The high school partnered with Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the district to offer the first-year apprenticeship program, which offers students 16 graduation credits as well as a chance to complete their first year in the trade.

The district runs trades programs in other schools as well. All told, roughly 200 students a year go through the trades programs based out of Surrey high schools.

Without it, Hertzog said she never would have become a carpenter. If you asked her a few years ago what she’d become, she’d say a musician.

Even in her early high school years, she was on the path to a musical career. But a Grade 10 woodworking class would prove to be a pivotal turning point. It was a birdhouse – shaped like a guitar, of course – that started it all.

In Grade 11, there were more options available to try out things like woodcarving and cabinet construction and she applied for the program.

surrey carpentry

"I got here and it was so exciting. It wasn’t what was expected."

As she stood outside Guildford Park on a sunny Wednesday afternoon during a celebratory end-of-year barbecue for the carpentry students, she proudly gazed upon a "saloon" building the team built this year. It’s bound for a client’s backyard in Langley and it was one of four projects they built from the ground up – all the teachers did was hang the doors.

"We put the roofing on, we put the siding on, we did all of that stuff, and that’s not something most first years do," she said. "Here, we get to learn about it and we get to do it."

Most of the carpentry students leave high school with a job. For those who hadn’t landed one so far, employers were at the barbecue holding interviews.

But Hertzog has landed one and for that, she’s thankful she took the leap into the program.

"It just wasn’t something I thought was possible for me to do," she said of carpentry. "I’m the only girl in the program. I think they’ve had maybe one or two other girls throughout the 12 years. And I’m the only girl at work."

While it’s a male-dominated industry, she encourages other girls to give it a try.

"I was intimidated about my strength because I’m not as strong as some of these guys but you gain that strength. You’re not automatically put behind. Nobody anymore thinks it’s just a male job. It just happens to be that more men are in it but nobody’s concerned about that and that was something I didn’t realize."

Another bonus? Carpentry is booming, she said.

"You’re never going to run out of jobs."

Teacher Craig Tessier said as the buildings came along this year – done in partnership with the district’s drafting, plumbing and electrical students – they began drawing a lot of attention.

There’s already a wait list for close to a dozen projects next year, he added.

Tessier said it’s amazing that the program started out with projects like play sheds for children back in 2004, and today students are churning out fully wired buildings, in some cases complete with showers and other plumbing. He noted some former students are finishing their Red Seal certification at 22 and 23 years of age.

"They run job sites and have people working under them. They own their own houses, drive big trucks, and they all have big smiles when they come back to visit. The coolest part is now previous students are coming back to hire our new students."

That speaks to the quality of the program, he said.

"It’s a true collaboration," Tessier continued. "That’s what society is now looking for in the education system. They want hands-on, practical experience where it’s collaborative. They have to be able to problem solve."


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