Shop class

The announcement that Grade 9 and 10 students in Ontario will require one mandatory shop class is good news indeed.

Along with exposing students to potential career options, many will get their first chance to turn a wrench, machine a part or turn some wood. Some may find the experience beyond them, but for those who are good with their hands, it could be the start of a life-long interest.

A very good friend, now retired, enjoys dabbling with wood-working, learned in his formative years at a local public school. Back then shop class often started in Grade 7 or 8. For myriad reasons, the education system strayed away from hands-on learning, limiting access to the concept of trades. 

This meant that new tradespeople were generally sons and daughters of a small business owner engaged in those activities. A few grandparents will have helped out too, teaching young people the satisfaction to be found working on projects.

When we attended high school, the trades weren’t given the respect they deserved. Without a particular career path in mind, our personal education was a combination of interests including academic subjects and tech classes. Bouncing between the two streams of learning, we gained what has turned into a tenet in our own life: everyone deserves respect, regardless of vocation or calling.

The lasting laugh has been the number of very successful kids who took those skills, got on as an apprentice and have made a very good living for themselves. Many ultimately started their own business and now provide a steady hand to employees needing the chance to convert school learning into real-world practice. Experience is the best teacher ever.

Good luck to the class of 2024. Make the most of your shop class.

Let’s be fair

A few weeks back, Ottawa was the scene of great theatre, if you happen to appreciate industry leaders being lumped on by Members of Parliament.

A random straw poll amongst associates suggested people generally enjoyed seeing the grocery cartel get their comeuppance. Past sins of price-fixing have not been forgotten.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh showed up at the event with a stack of paper he claimed held 2,000 questions for grocers. In one exchange,  according to the CBC, Loblaws CEO Galen Weston Jr. was questioned repeatedly, “How much profit is too much profit?” Again, “You’re making more money than you’ve ever made. How much profit is too much profit?” That well might be the billion-dollar question.

In terms of relevance or long-term effect after this testy exchange, no real answer emerged. Weston did note their profits ran around $1 on a basket of $25. People modestly familiar with retail profits and concepts had it figured that in groceries, some items are winners and others are losers. 

We don’t like to pay any more than we must for any product or service. It isn’t a stretch to suggest all Canadians feel the same way. Without a comprehensive breakdown across all segments of their business, Singh and company still have no clue on how much profit grocers are talking about in percentage terms. We suspect that wasn’t what the question was originally about anyway. 

Profit seems to have become a dirty six letter word in some quarters. Similarly, capitalism is viewed with increasing skepticism, abetted by politicians and activists that see private enterprise as a critical element of the economic problems facing society today. 

Expecting the grocery cartel to function without profit, or minimal net, is just not realistic. The simple fact is private enterprise is not a charity. Profit often drives innovation and allows businesses to re-invest, perhaps pay better and grow the brand in service of customers. 

Without profit, said businesses atrophy by losing the confidence to reinvest or the capacity to weather downturns without disrupting their trade.

Along with the grilling by MPs, it would have been alright by us to see grocers recognized for their critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Surely politicians hadn’t forgotten grocers were declared an essential service early on. Despite selective shortfalls within the supply chain, they did a great job of keeping stores open and product available. 

Locally, there are numerous independent grocers and suppliers who factored into that show of needed gratitude.

Let’s be fair and have a little give and take on this conversation.