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Are skilled trade jobs in Ontario’s future?

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Ontario’s 2016 budget was entitled Jobs for Today and Tomorrow, which has an optimistic tone to it, state several construction industry stakeholders, but just how many of those jobs will be in the skilled trades remains to be seen.

One of the main highlights in the budget is the Ontario Student Grant (OSG), which will start in the 2017-18 school year. Under the system, average college and university tuition will be free for students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less. In addition, non-repayable grants will be available for more than 50 per cent of students from families making less than $83,000.

While this news is encouraging, says David Frame, director of government relations with the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), there is some uncertainty as to what impact this will have on the skilled trades. The OGCA states the government does not intend to apply the subsidy to private and industry training programs, "which could result in a shift in demand from industry apprentice programs to provincial colleges."

"If anything I’m a little worried," Frame says. "The subsidization of universities in particular is going to draw people into universities who maybe were going into the skilled trades. There’s no new money there (for this new initiative). With the focus on universities, and maybe it means more focus in terms of skills through colleges, which would be a good thing, but we’ll have to see how that works out."

In terms of specific items for skilled tradespeople, the budget states in 2015-16 the government is investing around $176 million to offer a range of programs for apprentices, employers and training agents.

A post-budget release from MasonryWorx states similar concerns as Frame. It is encouraged to see "significant spending plans" on institutional buildings but wonders how they will be built with a shortage of skilled trades people in Ontario.

"The Ontario government is moving in the right direction to ensure post-secondary education becomes more accessible for Ontarians with a lower income. However, the approach put forward in the budget does nothing to encourage Ontario students to pursue an education and career in the trades," it reads.

The Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA) points out more clarification is needed when it comes to employers and the skilled trades.

"Employers play a key role in providing apprenticeship opportunities by providing hands-on experience in the trades so the apprentice or tradesperson can thrive in their career," says Joe Vaccaro, chair of OSTA in a statement.

"We will look to clarify how the funding announcements will be prioritized so that these investments can provide the most impact to build the next generation of tradespeople."

Part of the province’s plan to provide $3 billion in capital grants to post-secondary institutions over 10 years is a new technology, education and collaboration hub that’s meant to bring together preparatory, apprenticeship, training, trades and technology programs, at Confederation College in Thunder Bay as well as another initiative at La Cité collégiale in Ottawa.

The Ontario College of Trades was also included in the budget, in particular recommendations made by Tony Dean, who was appointed by the province in October 2014 to examine key areas of the College, such as issues related to the scopes of practice, as well as the process for determining whether certification should be compulsory or voluntary to practice a trade.

Four recommendations were noted in the budget as ways to help improve the College’s process:

Supporting the existing trade boards to update and bring consistency to all trades’ scopes of practice;

A review of how trades are classified through the establishment of an independent and evidence-based process, using risk of harm as a key criterion;

Establishing clearer and more concise criteria on how journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios are determined; and

Developing an enforcement and compliance committee and appeal process to resolve potential conflicts earlier.

"Ontario will bring forward proposed legislative changes and work closely with the College of Trades to implement Mr. Dean’s recommendations," the budget reads.

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