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Mike Holmes, Jr. on the Future of the Trades

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Mike Holmes Jr on the Future of the Trades
By Greg Dalgetty

He may be the son of the most famous tradesperson in Canada, but Mike Holmes, Jr. hadn’t planned on following in his father’s footsteps.

"It’s funny—I never intended to get into the trades," he says. "I think that was mostly because my dad was in the trades and I wanted to go after something on my own."

He originally had his sights set on becoming a firefighter, but things changed when he was 14 and his father invited him to join him on the jobsite.

"I worked for him that summer and fell in love with the trades," he recalls. "Being able to build something and see what I’d accomplished in a day really made me passionate about working with my hands and being a part of the trades."

Holmes, Jr. grew up in front of the camera. He first started appearing on his father’s show, Holmes on Homes, at the tender age of 14. And although he’s a natural in front of the camera now, things weren’t so easy in the beginning.

"I was terrified the first time I was on camera," he says. "I was 14 years old and I had no idea what I was doing—I think I put a screw in my finger."

But he’s come a long way since then. Now 27, the energetic and amiable carpenter is a veteran of the small screen, and is known to Canadians from coast to coast for his work on Holmes and Holmes and Home to Win.

We recently caught up with Holmes, Jr. to get his take on the future of youth in the skilled trades.

A World of Opportunities

With the youngest of the working baby boomers approaching retirement age, the skilled trades could be facing a labour shortage in the near future.

"The baby boomer generation is so heavily involved in the trades that when they retire we’re going to see a huge shortage in the skilled trades," Holmes observes. "But there’s a huge opportunity for anyone looking to get into the skilled trades. If you’ve got drive and passion and you’re a hardworking person, there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of money to be made."

Millennials are entering a very different job market than their parents did, with full-time work much harder to come by and housing prices far exceeding anything their parents paid, even when adjusting for inflation. But by learning a trade, young people can enjoy a lifestyle few others in their age group can dream of.

"I bought my first house at 19, and that was from working in the trades since I was 14," Holmes says. "At that time a lot of my friends had a huge amount of debt from school and they still didn’t know what they wanted to do for work. I’m not trying to gloat; this is more about the opportunity that comes from working the trades."

In addition to reaping the benefits of working in the trades, young people also bring a lot to the table.

"I think millennials are very creative. I feel like they have more of a focus on design and art, and I think there’s going to be a lot more creativity brought to the table with this generation."

A Place for Skilled People

"There’s a stigma that the trades are for uneducated people," Holmes notes. "The biggest thing I want to get out there is that the trades are a place for skilled people. There’s a reason we call them the skilled trades."

Sadly, some parents have actively discouraged their children from getting into the trades.

"I remember this one student saying he wanted to be an HVAC technician, but his mother wouldn’t let him and was forcing him to go to school to be a doctor," he recalls. "That just reminded me of how poorly some people look at the trades."

Meanwhile, students pressured into getting a university degree they don’t want can find themselves buried under insurmountable debt and facing a highly competitive job market.

"I’ve watched so many people go to university and get a degree, and then go to another school and get another degree before ending up in a job that doesn’t have anything to do with their degrees," Holmes says.

"I just think how we’re forcing kids to go to high school and then post-secondary is wrong because we’re creating a lot of debt for these students and on top of that, they may end up with a degree they’ll never use."

A Celebration of Skills

Holmes discovered early in life that woodworking was his passion. He later spent three years at George Brown College in Toronto studying carpentry.

But woodworking is a long way off from firefighting, and he fell into it by chance. His advice to young people: Try your hand at a trade. Who knows—you might like it.

"I always suggest people try a trade. There are so many people who are looking for apprentices or summer help," he says. "You can work with someone for a summer, be an apprentice and see if you like it. If you don’t like it, well, guess what—it didn’t cost you $50,000 or $100,000."

He would like to see schools encourage students to get into the trades at an early age. He has been a part of several Skills Canada competitions and seen firsthand the incredible work young people can do in the trades when given the chance to flourish.

"It’s the Olympics of skilled trades," he says of the annual event. "For the average Joe who thinks that skilled trades aren’t important or for the uneducated, if you go to one of these competitions, you see how amazingly talented these young kids are."