St. Thomas steel-toe boot collection helping students explore the skilled trades

Arthur Voaden Secondary School collects steel-toe boots to help high school students enter the skilled trades. Supplied by Joe Simon

Personal protective equipment like steel-toe boots is essential to any job site, but can come with a healthy price tag. A St. Thomas school teacher is trying to make sure the price of boots is not a barrier to students exploring the skilled trades.

When Joe Simon, a construction and woodworking teacher at Arthur Voaden Secondary School, put the call out on Facebook to borrow some steel-toe boots for students, there was an overwhelming response.

“Bags started showing up for people from local factories. Used boots, here you go. Boom — we got 30 pairs of boots in two short weeks,” he said.

Through funding from the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Simon said that for over 10 years, they and other St. Thomas high schools have run field trips for students to visit job sites, giving them a first-hand look at the skilled trades.

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Earlier this week, with the help of Doug Terry Homes, 30 students from Arthur Voaden Secondary School visited a site of homes under construction.

But to participate, Simon, who has worked in constriction for over 25 years, said all students have to wear steel-toe boots, costing between $150 and $200.

Not everyone could afford that price, so Simon went to social media to see if anyone would be willing to lend them some boots.

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Boots collected by a teacher at Arthur Voaden Secondary School to help high school students enter the skilled trades. Supplied by Joe Simon

Instead of a few pairs, they received more than 30 pairs, with donations still coming in.

“I can’t even decide who it’s more important to, the individual who starts the craft or the companies who are in such desperate need of boots on the ground of people plying this new way of life,” he said.

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“We’ve got several kids here already that did a co-op, they already know what they want to be, and they cannot wait for the next five weeks to be done so they can start in the trade.”

One of the students who benefited from the field trip was Logan Guy, 17, a Grade 11 student planning to enter the skilled trades in woodworking.

“I already had a pair of steel-toed boots because I was working with one of my friends’ parents doing insulation, so I already had the equipment for it, but a lot of other people really benefited from getting those boots, being able to go on a field trip,” he said.

“It was pretty nice seeing, like it really is a lot of work doing well, even just one house and seeing a huge group of people are doing an entire community,” Guy said. “There’s literally a job dedicated to just painting or stacking bricks, and it’s really interesting because they love what they’re doing and they get to do it all day.”

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After he graduates, Guy plans to look at a career doing custom woodworking, making furniture and cabinetry, but was grateful for the opportunity to see some other trades in action.

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“I just find it so gratifying, just so rewarding when you finally see your project, and it’s done, and you get to take it home and use it every day.”

As to the future, Simon hopes to turn this generosity into an opportunity to help students enter the trades and patriciate in future trips by creating a library of boots.

“So kids don’t have to even think about not being able to go. They can come suit up here at Arthur Voaden, get on the bus and then go see where their careers are going to start,” he said.

“If we have an overwhelming amount of boots, some of these graduating students, it … might be a nice parting gift for them to leave with a pair of boots — they can walk straight onto a job site and be ready to go.”

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