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Industry Perspectives: Time to make Ontario a leader on apprenticeships and training

Joe Vaccaro
Industry Perspectives: Time to make Ontario a leader on apprenticeships and training

The warnings started nearly half a century ago: Ontario’s education and training system is not producing enough workers with the skills to meet the growing needs of industry.

Although the skills gap has serious implications, affecting Ontario’s ability to compete and grow its economy, successive governments haven’t made much headway in addressing it.

Narrowing the skills gap isn’t easy. However, meaningful progress is possible if those campaigning to form the next Ontario government are willing to listen.

Tackling Ontario’s widening skills gap should be a priority in every region in the upcoming provincial election. Any candidate who might think otherwise hasn’t heard the alarm bells.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates the skills gap costs Ontario’s economy about $24 billion annually in lost economic opportunity. All kinds of studies warn it will get much worse, as millions of baby boomers hit retirement age and leave the workforce.

That’s because the number of workers available to replace retirees is decreasing. For years, educational preferences have been shifting. All too often, the skilled trades are overlooked as a career option even though these are the skills that our future economy requires.

According to Skills Canada, almost 40 per cent of new jobs created in the next decade will be in the skilled trades. However, currently only 26 per cent of young people aged 13 to 24 are considering a career in these areas.

Ensuring Ontario’s skilled trades system is responsive to industry and our advancing economy takes more than incremental changes.

A systematic approach is required and here’s why:

Ontario is the only province where apprenticeship registrations are dropping, according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

The skilled worker shortage is at an all-time high in many regions and sectors of the province, yet many companies that want to hire more apprentices have to turn them away.

The reason: Ontario has among the highest journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios in Canada. For trades such as carpentry, a company must have three licensed journeypersons on staff in order to hire and train one apprentice.

Ontario’s restrictive apprenticeship ratios should be updated to help close the skills gap, and open up more opportunities for young people who want to work in the skilled trades. Until then, the province will not be able to attract or train skilled tradespeople in the numbers needed.

Right now Ontario is not equipping the future workforce with the right hard and soft skills to meet 21st century demands.

The world is changing so fast that Ontario’s conventional, one-size-fits-all approach to skills training clearly isn’t working. Not when apprentices in Ontario have less than a 50/50 chance of graduating. Not when 30 per cent of Ontario businesses are having a hard time finding workers with the right skills, especially in sectors that rely on the skilled trades such as manufacturing, engineering and construction.

As time goes on, more jobs will require modern, multi-skilled tradespeople, whose skills are adjustable and transferable as our economy changes. Rather than focus on time-based qualifications for on-the-tools training, modular and stackable approaches to skills training and development are needed. When competencies are recognized, this allows for greater flexibility and the opportunity for young people to gain practical work skills much more quickly.

Compulsory certification is another barrier that exacerbates the Ontario skilled trades shortage. The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) charges mandatory fees of $120 annually for new journeypersons and $60 for every new apprentice. The way to welcome and encourage young people who’ve chosen skilled trades careers, is to dismantle barriers. Compulsory certification that forces tradespeople to pay a fee to OCOT in order to be an apprentice simply isn’t right.

Today, skilled tradespeople are in demand, allowing them to pay off schooling costs far faster than many university grads with soft skills. When comparing return on investment for education, skilled trades programs offer a real advantage, especially in today’s changing economy.

That’s the message OCOT and the province will have to work hard at getting through to guidance counsellors and teachers who still aren’t treating the skilled trades as a career choice that’s just as, if not more valuable than, a university education.

Despite the best of intentions over the years, Ontario’s skills gap has gotten worse, not better. The next provincial government has an opportunity to make sure the next generation has the skills to keep Ontario’s economy competitive.

It starts with making Ontario a leader on apprenticeships and training so it’s easier for young people to pursue a career in the skilled trades.

Joe Vaccaro is chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. Send comments and Industry Perspectives column ideas to

Recent Comments (4 comments)

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Mark Mitchell Image Mark Mitchell

Great article. Finally someone recognizes that its excessive bureaucracy and over-regulation that is holding back new opportunities in the skilled (and construction) trades. Apprenticeship ratios should be 1:1, or like Alberta, 1 journeyman for 2 apprentices. This will help counter the attrition rates of people that start out in a trade, and either don’t finish the apprenticeship, or move on once they have their ticket. We in the HVAC trade have an impossible time getting people started, as we are regulated by two bodies. I can sign up an apprentice air conditioning mechanic, but he can’t help me on a heating job unless he has a Gas fitters license, and vice versa. Ontario needs to let business decide who can work where. Gone are the days of hiring a few helpers, and then picking the best one to move into an apprenticeship. If there are no trial opportunities to get started, then there are less opportunities. The argument from Ocot and Tssa is always the same. Safety. We have enough health and safety rules nowadays that all new employees are aware of the hazards before they step onto a jobsite, and the MOL is there to enforce that too. If Ontario really wants to promote skilled trades, they need to BACK OFF

Tim Cross Image Tim Cross

I am a retired secondary school Sheet Metal teacher. When I Started teaching in 1980 there were individual trade shops. Now there are only a couple left in Waterloo region. I was the OYAP co-ordinator for Sheet Metal ( HVAC ). I also taught night school for registered apprentices. Many of my students became journeymen. I was the Technology Director at my school and acknowledged budget cuts and shop closures for lack of funding and a teacher shortage. I ran a liaison program with feeder schools for grade 8 students. The students would spend a day touring the individual shops and making a hands on project to take home to show their parents. We need to invest in the trades again.

I am a 70 year old welding instructor working in a vocational school in Ontario. after years of beating my head against this problem I am retiring next year. there is no easy fix to this mess because the people who control the system refuse to allow any change that takes control out of their hands. we need to step back and consider an old way of training, bring back the trade guild system. each trade would be in charge of training their own apprentices with the responsibility over standards etc. let the government keep a distance and their hands off. schools in Ontario have a bad habit of being dismissive of trades, that needs to change. when in high school 55 years ago I was told that by a teacher that being in a vocational school meant that I was a second string student and had a limited future. what a way to inspire kids but I fear that attitude is still there. I will be gone before this is fixed so good luck, you will need it.

Vic A. Bodnar Image Vic A. Bodnar

Guarantee that the journeyperson that an apprentice will be apprenticed to has not only the multi skills that you say are required but also has the capability to actually teach and pass those skills along and a lower ratio may be viable. But unfortunately there are few if any true mentoring programs out there. Not everyone can be a skills mentor.
What happens to the apprentice who gets paired with a journeyperson that because of industry demand has acquired only a limited skill set? The apprentice gains only a limited amount of skills. Worse yet they may not be employable by these contractors requiring people with a full skill set. You now have ruined the livelihood of this unfortunate apprentice because of your short sightedness and desire for a quick fix. Let’s consider the analogy of an intern studying to become an M.D. But we’ll only give him a two year program and he can intern to only one doctor who happens to specialize in appendectomies. Would you want them to treat you for an eye infection? This kind of gets away from that multi skilled model.
By giving an apprentice numerous journeypersons to learn from they have a more rounded and multi-faceted skill set.
There are numerous jobs especially government jobs that don’t require that the contractor hire apprentices even if they could simply because they don’t want to bother training apprentices even though it has been proven that apprentices generate more revenue than it costs to have them on site and train them. If the government is serious about apprenticeship make it mandatory to hire them.
The right skills that an apprentice needs come from their in-field experience, that means the business owners and contractor that they work for. Is there a chance of poaching of apprentices from other companies? Yes of course. But if everyone is doing it, it means the company that wants the best will pay for it. What goes around comes around.
Competencies are recognized by minimum standards. For example no one says you can’t pay an exceptional apprentice more than the going rate if you feel they deserve it. I would suspect that an incentive like that would encourage more people to come into the trades.
Why isn’t compulsory certification mandatory for all trades? It is not about fees but about a minimum standard of competency. How many times have we seen and heard about so called trades people working out of the truck of their car doing work that they have little or no experience nor training in? Ask Mike Holmes. Not to mention all required safety issues that go quickly to the curb when the job is behind schedule. This minimum competency is the safety and economic insurance for the consumer.

So before you look at only one area of the problem consider the whole thing right from the financial restrictions of the training facilities, the restrictions within the curriculums, all the way up to the perceived demands and commitments of employers.


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