Fanshawe College helped teens connect with the trades through its the third annual Trades and Apprenticeship Program for high school students on Thursday.

School officials admit finding the next generation of skilled workers continues to be a challenge.

While some students come to the event searching for a possible career fit, Cole Zebreggs knows what he wants to do. "I love cooking. I've always loved cooking. When I was little was little I was in the kitchen, not outside, at family functions."

Zebreggs goes to Holy Cross Secondary School in Strathroy. He already works in the kitchen at the Little Beaver Restaurant in Komoka, but a conversation with the head of Fanshawe’s Culinary Skills Program has given him a clearer path to making his passion a profession.

"He was saying to ask someone that I work with, he's a Red Seal chef, to sponsor me so I can go into the apprenticeship program at Fanshawe."

The Red Seal program sets common standards that apply to skilled workers across the country.

Organizers of the Trades and Apprenticeship Program admit that most people think of the construction industry when they hear skilled trades. But the category covers a broad range of professions, including hairdressers and horticulturalists.

Tracey Davies, the program manager with the Faculty of Science Trades and Technology, says the key is to help students understand what's involved in each trade to help them determine what would interest them, and help them chart a path to success.

"Plumbing, or electrical, or sheet metal, horticulture, cook training; they can start to plant the seeds of awareness and take those appropriate courses in high school," she says.

Ross Fair, associate dean with the Fanshawe College St. Thomas/Elgin Regional Campus, says in many fields, the need is desperate.

“They're dying for skilled tradespeople and there aren't enough of them out there. And I'm not filling classes right now."

The focus at the St. Thomas/Elgin Campus is on advanced manufacturing.

Fair says one of the keys is to stay on top of trends, like 3D printing.

"We're now starting to see houses built with 3D printers, bridges being built, artificial limbs being built with 3D printers. So we want our machining design students to be exposed to that latest technology so that they're even more ready to move into those new spaces."

Fair says one significant change in recent years is that, more and more, industry is partnering with educators to better train prospective employees.