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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: The way forward for Ontario’s skilled trades

Patrick McManus
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: The way forward for Ontario’s skilled trades

Earlier this month, voters returned Doug Ford’s governing PC party to office with an even stronger majority.

It was a ringing endorsement that a party committed to getting more people into the skilled trades is on the right track. Now, it must stay focused.

For years, successive provincial governments have talked about Ontario’s desperate need for more skilled tradespeople. The Ford government not only recognizes that the province is grappling with the largest labour shortage ever, it’s actually doing something about it. This is the time to build on that momentum.

Replacing the divisive, overly bureaucratic Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) with a new Crown agency, Skilled Trades Ontario, was the right move. We all know what happened when OCOT got distracted: apprenticeship registrations dropped as the skilled trades shortage got worse. It’s a hard lesson that should not be forgotten or repeated.

That’s why it’s so crucial to stay focused. The endorsement of Ford’s PC party by eight construction trade unions should be seen as a sign of a shared commitment to truly advancing skilled trades careers for more people.

There is no need to open the door to endless debates about making more trades compulsory. There’s far more important work to do.

Skilled Trades Ontario has a clear mandate: to simplify and transform the skilled trades and apprenticeship system, and address labour shortages by making it easier to get into the trades. That starts by compiling comprehensive labour data so we have a clear picture of where public and private investments are going, which trades are hardest hit by the retirement wave and where the demand is now and into the future.

Compiling this critical data into one centralized system is the most practical next step.

It ensures the right trades are promoted, career seekers have a clear pathway and funds for skills training is directed where it needs to go so that training is more widely available and accessible in all parts of the province, especially rural areas.

The Ontario government should also keep pushing to double the number of immigrants allowed into the province under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. Increasing that number from 9,000 to 18,000 a year will provide some immediate relief to the province’s skilled trades shortage.

Right now, Canada’s immigration system is out of step with today’s labour challenges. For example, Ontario desperately needs infrastructure and residential trades that fall under skill levels C and D in our National Occupational Classification system. Yet, newcomers with these skills are at the back rather than front of the line in our immigration express entry system. That has to change.

Providing further support and encouragement for employers to keep up skills training is critical as well.

Last year the province announced the new $47 million Achievement Incentive Program, aimed at incentivizing more small and medium sized businesses to take on apprentices. It’s a good start in helping employers who invest their time and expertise in making skilled trades careers possible.

Narrowing the skills gap and attracting more people to the trades is a must to ease Ontario’s historic labour shortage. The Ford government closed out the legislative session with Budget 2022 that pledged an additional investment of more than $114 million over four years to carry out its Skilled Trades Strategy.

It’s the right plan that has every chance of making a difference, as long as the province stays on course.

Patrick McManus is chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. Send Industry Perspectives comments and column ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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