Against a backdrop of the imminent release of the Tony Dean review, which could recommend major changes in the way Ontario trains and certifies its trades workers, the federal Red Seal Endorsement program has announced a timetable for expansion of its roster of certifiable trades in Ontario to include three heavy equipment operator trades.
Many in Ontario’s construction industry are keen to see if Dean’s year-long review of key aspects of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), with particular reference to issues related to scopes of practice, will change the regulatory landscape for trades workers. Currently, of Ontario’s 42 recognized construction trades, 11 require compulsory certification as a journeyperson or registration as an apprentice or journeyperson candidate, with the remainder having voluntary status.
Beyond that, workers can seek the Red Seal Endorsement (RSE), obtaining certification through the program supported by the federal, provincial and territorial governments that offers interprovincial portability of credentials.
The three trades for which RSE will become available through an Interprovincial Red Seal examination process starting next spring or summer are: heavy equipment operator — dozer; heavy equipment operator — excavator; and heavy equipment operator — tractor loader backhoe.
These three heavy equipment operator trades were just created out of one heavy equipment operator designation in June of 2014 by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, administrators of the Red Seal program.
None of the three trades require compulsory certification in Ontario, a point that animates Mike Gallagher, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) local 793, which represents many heavy equipment operators and other trades workers.
First, Gallagher said his union is in favour of the latest expansion of the RSE program to include Ontario’s heavy equipment operator trades.
"Mobility for operators and national standards will benefit our members and industry in the long run," he said. "The Red Seal designation has benefited mobile crane operators and employers and specific industries that are national in scope like pipelines. Projects such as the Energy East project will benefit by ensuring a highly skilled and mobile workforce."
But in what amounts to a final volley before stakeholders assess the findings of the Dean review — expected to be released before the end of November — Gallagher argued there is no good reason to keep so many trades non-compulsory. Lobbying by any "private employers" to keep most trades voluntary, and thus slow the drive to improve training and standards, is wrong-headed.
"Why some private employers might not be happy with it, they are best to speak for themselves," he said of the move to make more trades compulsory. "Among unionized employers there is a pretty high level of support for it. The operating engineers are clearly on the record as wanting some of the more highly skilled parts of our occupation to become compulsory…I would agree with these three, (dozer), excavator, tractor loader backhoe, I agree that these should all be compulsory."
Gallagher said there is a process involved with OCOT reviewing trades and his union respects the process.
He said he looks forward to the recommendations of the Dean review and hopes there will be a consensus that will eliminate opposition to OCOT from those who oppose greater burdens of regulation, training and certification — though he admitted, "maybe I’m an idealist."
Skills and safety are inextricably linked, he says.
"Compulsory training has been proven to reduce accidents, injuries and fatalities that are a result of operator error," said Gallagher. "We found that with mobile cranes and tower cranes and we believe that would transition equally with concrete pumps and large excavators, and dozers, tractor loaders and backhoes."
Once the Red Seal exams are implemented for the three heavy equipment operator trades, the provincial Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) will no longer be available, states the OCOT press statement. At that time, all individuals interested in obtaining a C of Q will be required to write and pass the Interprovincial Red Seal exam.
Effective Oct. 1, and prior to the commencement of the new Red Seal exam regime next spring or summer, holders of a Certificate of Apprenticeship issued by the Ministry of Labour in any of the heavy equipment operator trades can apply to become a member of the College’s Journeypersons Class and be issued a provincial C of Q without passing a C of Q exam.
Tellingly, given the controversial nature of the compulsory/voluntary debate, the release literally underlines this point: "The introduction of the RSE does not impact the voluntary status of any of the heavy equipment operator trades; holding and maintaining a valid C of Q remains voluntary for these trades."