When Grade 9 student Cody Johnson went for a free haircut at Hugh Boyd secondary’s hair salon, he had no idea the path of his life was about to change.
Four years later, at the age of 18, Johnson is set to become a full-time junior stylist at a downtown Vancouver salon.
And it’s all thanks to one of Richmond School District’s blossoming hands-on career programs.
Johnson was so pumped by his school crimp that it dawned on him that he, too, might enjoy making people feel that great — on a daily basis.
Not long after, in Grade 11, he enrolled into the school’s hairdressing program; one of several trade-orientated career paths across the district, including cooking, auto service and plumbing.
“I remember how good I felt after the haircut and realizing, ‘I could do this,’ and also make people really happy,” said Johnson, who graduated in the spring.
“I started in the salon in August 2011, while still part of the program; (the salon) took me on as an apprentice.
“Once I graduated, I started working there a little more and, this month, they are taking me on full time as a junior stylist.”
Despite preconceptions that the career programs are some sort of last resort behind university, Johnson said he had no reservations at all about entering the program.
“It wasn’t something I chose just to get out of studying,” he said.
“I did have thoughts of going to university, but I wasn’t really worried about it when I started doing the hairdressing.”
One person at the school district whose job it is to recruit more Cody Johnsons is Graeme Hamilton, teacher consultant for the Career Programs team, a new team in the district.
Hamilton and his crew have a series of events planned over the coming months to change the aforementioned preconceptions about the district’s career programs.
The first being a Career Programs Bus Tour, where teachers, counselors and school trustees will climb aboard a school bus and be taken to see first-hand the opportunities on offer.
“On. Nov. 30, we will be opening things up to teachers, counsellors and the trustees,” said Hamilton.
“We’re going to load up a school bus and take people to the different programs. We found that in the school district, not a lot of people know about the programs that exist.
“When I was a tech studies teacher at Cambie, a student wanted to know about the plumbing program; I didn’t know that much about it.”
The more buzz created around the programs, the better, added Hamilton.
“This tour is timely with the B.C. government’s promotion of the need for skilled workers in the coming years,” said Hamilton.
“There’s still a preconception that the trades are where people end up in a dead-end situation, but carpenters who go into project management can earn over $100,000.
“And these programs can lead into other paths.”
Hamilton described how a girl in the culinary program started working in the Cactus Club, saved up a ton of money and is now looking at opening her own restaurant.
“And there’s a certified plumber who’s now flying all over North America for a company and he’s only 23.
“There are wonderful success stories out there that we’re only starting to hear about.
“We’re trying to raise the profile and change people’s perceptions.”
One question Hamilton does hear a lot from students is, “If I do this, can I still go to uni (university)?”
“Of course. In fact, this is the sort of thing that universities are starting to look for, hands-on experience.”
Although not plowing a career path through university now, Johnson is excited about what lies ahead.
“I’ve quite a few years ahead of me, hopefully building up my skills and clientele,” he said.
“But longer term, I’d love to maybe switch it up and go into the movies doing the same kind of thing.”
And for students still at school, perhaps glancing out the corner of their eye at one of the district’s career programs, Johnson offered up a few words of wisdom.
“I would definitely encourage it. The way I feel about it is, if you have any interest in a subject and you can try it out at high school, why wouldn’t you do it? Johnson said.
“If you don’t end up following it through, you have all these years ahead of you. It’s a great way to see what’s out there.”
Hamilton said his team will also host a Career Programs Forum on Jan. 23 from 7 to 8 p.m. at Richmond secondary for parents and community members.
“We are having guest speakers from post secondary institutions and industry as well as hearing from some of our past graduates who have continued on in their chosen vocations,” he said.