Melanie and Connor Mason of Millet watch as their father Gary draws a quick charcoal sketch of a horse as they tour the Red Deer College Campus on Saturday. Connor

Melanie and Connor Mason of Millet watch as their father Gary draws a quick charcoal sketch of a horse as they tour the Red Deer College Campus on Saturday. Connor

Arts education spikes as student pursue interests during economic turmoil

At this economically challenging time when well-paid, full-time jobs are harder to land, a lot of graduating high school students aren’t sweating it. They are following their interests, abilities and dreams — regardless of employment prospects.

At this economically challenging time when well-paid, full-time jobs are harder to land, a lot of graduating high school students aren’t sweating it.

They are following their interests, abilities and dreams — regardless of employment prospects.

Kandace Stevens-Gnip was one of the people who narrowed in on the visual and performing arts tables at an open house Saturday at Red Deer College. While neither career path is known for being particularly stable or lucrative, Stevens-Grip said, “It’s what I’m interested in . . . . The arts are very expressive. If I got a job in this, I’d feel successful and happy.”

The Grade 12 student from Bawlf, near Camrose, appears to be part of a North American trend. New data released by U.S. economist Alex Tabarrok shows that the number of students graduating with computer science and engineering degrees was lower in 2009 than in 1985, while the number of graduates from visual, performing arts, psychology, and communications programs are all up considerably.

Although highly paid nine-to-five jobs tend to be scarce in these arty fields, Jason Frizzell, chair of the RDC visual arts program, believes an arts education can still lead to multiple viable career paths. Frizzell has had former students end up designing video games or comics, websites, and product packaging. One student went on to attain a master’s degree in architecture.

An art education gave them the foundation to jump into various creative careers — although some required additional training, said Frizzell. “Visual arts teaches people to think like an artist . . . It opens a few doors and prepares them for the next step.”

According to Wild Rose School Division career councillor Norma Thompson, personal interests should always be factored into career choices. While some high school students rank earning potential first when thinking about jobs, Thompson believes these young people might be surprised to discover they don’t like what they are taking midway through their post-secondary studies.

“You have to follow your dreams and build from there,” she said, noting there are a vast array of new jobs to consider.

But the rush towards creative pursuits might leave Alberta further in the lurch, as industries are already predicting serious future labour shortages.

“Companies are very concerned,” said Brenda Munro, RDC’s dean of continuing education. She noted power engineering, information technology and other technological fields are already looking for more workers. “We need more people in practical programs.”

Scott Pederson, an RDC instructor for sprinkler system installation, said his growing field, which offers starting pay of $23 an hour, is becoming popular with older apprentices, including those in their 40s or even early 50s.

Some of these older students either didn’t know what to do with their lives when they were younger, or felt stuck in dead-end jobs before switching to a practical career choice, suggested his fellow instructor Ryan Koch.

Practical considerations, such as employment and paycheque prospects, were still important for many people attending the RDC open house — including Amanda Ly, of Red Deer, who recently got laid off from her digital signs job.

Ly is now considering studying information technology, while her friend, Mistine Moszaros, 26, who works at a local trucking dealership, wants to become a heavy duty mechanic.

“I’m a single mother, so if there’s anything I can do to better my child’s life, with better opportunities and even more money, I’d be happy,” said Moszaros.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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