The province’s newly released apprenticeship strategy is a “lost opportunity,” says David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association, and doesn’t establish key goals or timelines.
“Essentially in the end what they did is they took the old strategy and prettied it, pumped some funding into some areas and said here it is isn’t it great,” commented Frame, adding the strategy doesn’t identify or address the problem that there is more demand for the trades but fewer people completing their trade accreditation.
“They’re going to promote the trades more, they’re going to provide more support for people who are in apprenticeship systems so maybe that will help, but there is no clear goal of saying we need to increase completion by ‘x’ amount and each of the partners needs to be part of the solution.”
The strategy was developed through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development following engagement with partners in the apprenticeship system from across the province, including the construction industry, a release stated.
“The strategy is positive in terms of packaging things together and presenting them. It shows us the pathway of where the government wants to take the conversation,” said Joe Vaccaro, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, adding he was hoping for direction or a timeline.
“It shows some recognition that there is a huge retirement wave that we need to manage, that we need to respond to together as employers, as government, as apprentices, but the real heavy lifting comes in the next phase which is how do we turn this into a modern, responsive apprenticeship jurisdiction.”
“What are we doing about ratios? What are we doing about competency testing? What are we doing about compulsory certification? Those are all things that are left to be dealt with.”
Cristina Selva, executive director of the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades, said a lot of what stakeholders recommended in the consultation process was incorporated in the plan.
“I’m seeing direct relevance of what the stakeholders were saying and what the actual initiatives and the strategy is targeting,” Selva noted.
She was particularly pleased with the possibility of introducing more practical exams as opposed to theory-based exams for Certificates of Qualification; funding assistance for upgrades or continuing education training; and the use of employer consortium group sponsorship models throughout the province to support the participation of small and medium businesses in apprenticeship training.
They reworked the GAGE credit so that it’s much more responsive to the employers
— Joe Vaccaro
Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance
Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, thought it was interesting to see a few initiatives in the strategy where the ministry will partner with the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT).
“I think it’s the dawn of a new relationship between these two entities and hopefully it will bear fruit,” said Cunningham.
The digital enhancements proposed in the strategy, which includes a simplified online registration process, is key, he said.
“In talking to a lot of our members, just getting apprentices registered is a challenge,” said Cunningham. “Streamlining and simplifying the apprenticeship application process, making it a one step process…is long overdue.”
Sean Reid, vice-president of member relations for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), said the new strategy doesn’t go far enough.
“There are some good ideas, but our concern is we may need to go back to the drawing board in another five years,” said Reid. “PCA has been saying for a while that we need to rethink how we are training the skilled trades workforce in general.
“That’s probably a conversation we’re going to have to continue to have with government, with policymakers over a longer period of time in order to change thinking there.”
One of the positive points in the strategy, he said, was promoting apprenticeship as a valuable post secondary pathway.
Giovanni Cautillo, treasurer of the Ontario Construction Careers Alliance, also applauded the government’s commitment to promote apprenticeships in schools.
“We have strived to break down the long-believed stereotypes that construction was only an option if you couldn’t ‘cut it’ in school,” said Cautillo in an email to the Daily Commercial News. “That is farthest thing from the truth and this initiative by the government will resonate, since this move clearly indicates the apprenticeship in the trades and thereby construction is seen as a priority.”
Patrick Dillon, business manager and secretary treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario said the government’s plan to promote and professionalize the trades so that it’s a first career choice is a good thing but pointed out it was also a major piece of the mandate for OCOT brought in by the government.
“In the last couple of years that College mandate has been undermined somewhat by the same government,” said Dillon. “I agree totally with professionalizing and promoting the trades, I’m just a little concerned about the commitment of our government.”
All stakeholders applauded the government for looking to increase the participation of young people and underrepresented groups in the skilled trades and recognizing the regional nature of recruitment and training challenges. They were also supportive of transforming the existing Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit into the Graduated Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (GAGE), providing better incentives for employers to train and retain apprentices.
“They reworked the GAGE credit so that it’s much more responsive to the employers, much more responsive to the system and the apprentice,” said Vaccaro. “It’s much better in terms of getting the employer directly engaged in supporting the apprentices ability to get through the system.”