School district offers trades skills course for students with learning challenges

A pilot program at Surrey School District is giving students with learning challenges a chance to explore a career in culinary and construction trades.

A pilot program at Surrey School District is giving students with learning challenges a chance to explore a career in culinary and construction trades, a first for Industry Training Authority (ITA).

Twelve students are participating in the pilot and have already completed 30 hours of culinary training with a European chef in a kitchen at Surrey Traditional School. In early spring, students demonstrated their newly acquired skills by preparing a luncheon for teachers, administrators, and school district trustees. They’re now completing 30 hours of basic construction and metal fabrication training at Fraser Heights Secondary, where they framed a wall and are building planters.

“The course is fun. I enjoy learning how to use the power tools,” says student Dayton Chan. “We are learning things we can actually use in a workspace.”

“I like the class because it helps me hone skills I’ve learned from other classes,” says Michael Martins, another student in the program. “I want to be in trades, so this will get me in there.”

More than 200 students attend the district’s programs designed to support learning and study for those with challenges, such as mental health issues, cognitive disabilities, and behavior challenges. However, most of these programs are housed in settings outside secondary schools, so students have limited or no access to a kitchen or woodworking shop, leaving them with few chances to explore culinary or construction trades.

“We try to give the students who struggle with traditional education as many different experiences as possible,” says Debbie Holmes, Career and Work Experience Coordinator, Interagency Programs, Surrey School District.

Debbie helped bring the Youth Explore Trades Skills course to Surrey through funding from ITA.

“We have learned over the years that you never know when you can spark someone’s interests in a trade or vocation by just giving them a chance to do some hands-on learning,” continues Debbie. “The funds from ITA gave us this opportunity to teach students new skills, and we are so grateful.”

“All students benefit from exploring trades as part of their career selection process,” says Jason Leber, Manager of Youth Programs, ITA. “The Youth Explore Trades Skills program provides students a chance to not only learn about trades careers, but they also get hands-on experience to see if they really enjoy it. A career in skilled trades is about finding a passion for what you do, and students with learning differences need to have access to these opportunities as well. ITA’s goal is to help expand skilled trades programs for students across the province—Surrey School District is an excellent example of what is possible.”

As part of the course, the Surrey School District is giving students information about skilled trades careers and assistance to explore options and connections to further training.

“We know that a career in trades can be rewarding, challenging, and lucrative,” says Mark Flynn, Principal, Career Education, Surrey School District. “We want to give all of our students—regardless of the school or program they attend—the opportunity to explore trades careers. With funding from ITA, we have been able to give this group of students a chance to acquire culinary and carpentry skills and explore trades careers.”

To learn more about ITA Youth Programs, visit

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