Electrical sector stakeholders in Ontario’s construction industry are holding out hope that the skill-set model of trades training announced by the Ontario government in the spring is not a done deal.
Armed with a new position paper calling for full protection of Red Seal certification and continued support for existing scopes of practice, representatives of four groups representing over 1,000 electrical contractors and 30,000 electricians held meetings with Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Ross Romano in July to state their case.
The new allies are the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO), the Ontario Electrical League (OEL), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).
“As much as we have fundamental differences with CLAC and the Ontario Electrical League, the bottom line is, what the government has done here, it affects all the electricals,” said John Grimshaw, secretary-treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario.
“Most people including the contractors are very proud of their licences, they are very proud of their training, they are proud of the markets they are in, so if you screw with them they are angry.”
The Ford government announced its decision to adopt the skill-set model of skills training in its 2019 budget. It argued in various statements that portable skill sets — qualifications to perform relatively narrow tasks achieved with fewer training hours, in contrast to existing comprehensive training programs, such as those undergone by electrical apprentices of 9,000 hours/five years — will help speed up certification and training in the skilled trades and provide workers and employers with more flexibility to get narrow-scope projects done.
The Modernizing the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Act was passed in the spring but the legislation left open the drafting of regulations until after the trades were consulted.
McNaughton and Romano assumed their portfolios in the June 20 cabinet shuffle. Romano met with Stewart Kiff of the OEL, Graeme Aitken of the ECAO, James Barry of IBEW and Ian DeWaard of CLAC on July 4 and representatives of the new alliance met with McNaughton on July 17. The allies’ presentations pressed four main points contained in their position paper:
- Apprenticeship reform needs to retain a commitment to the Red Seal, which recognizes competencies across the country;
- The reforms must uphold public and worker safety, recognizing each trade has varying degrees of risk;
- Competency in electrical work must be maintained with investments in training ensuring electricians can perform complex work and adapt to evolving technology; and
- The value of a Certificate of Qualification must not be diminished or else potential trainees will be discouraged from entering the field.
British Columbia, commented Grimshaw, “is the most glaring example of why you don’t try to deregulate trades. They have a huge shortage of journeypeople because once you try to deregulate trades and introduce skill sets and the rest of it, you take away the shine as to why you want to do a five-year apprenticeship. Once you do that, you find people aren’t going through programs.”
Aitken said the discussions with the ministers were fruitful enough that he is not resigned to accepting that a rigid skill-set model will be implemented in the electrical sector, at least.
Ontario’s tradespeople, not politicians, know what is best for workers in their sector,
— Monte McNaughton
Ontario Minister of Labour
Offering an example, Aitken said Romano seemed to grasp the health and safety significance of ensuring that the full scope of expertise should be maintained, with the parties agreeing that contractors hiring relatively unskilled workers to merely pull wire as part of a more complicated electrical job would risk creating a fire hazard.
“I think there is a genuine interest certainly by Minister Romano and Minister McNaughton that Ontario should build a system that continues to function in the future, that stands the test of time, that can be adaptable to changing conditions,” said Aitken, adding the two recent meetings were part of a series that have taken place.
“We have been engaged in ongoing dialogue which is also encouraging and also why I am not at the point of resignation.”
McNaughton and Romano were asked for comment. McNaughton issued a statement that said, “I recently had a very productive meeting with workers and leaders in the electrical sector. I listened carefully to their concerns and will bring them to the table when the issue is raised.”
McNaughton said he has met with over 100 labour stakeholders since he was named Minister of Labour.
“The bottom line is, Ontario’s tradespeople, not politicians, know what is best for workers in their sector,” he said.
He also stated, “[Minister Romano] is working with industry, employers, journeypersons and apprentices on how to best implement our plan for the skilled trades in Ontario.”
Grimshaw said with McNaughton and Romano in charge he hoped there would be some “traction.” He noted McNaughton had attended an IBEW summer conference where he was busy meeting with members of the sector. Grimshaw expects further discussions will occur in the fall.
“The thing about the modernization, it was very much an open framework, they had not put any regulations in place yet, they are building as they go, and for the most part, they don’t know anything about the skilled trades,” Grimshaw said. “They are realizing, let’s talk to the industry before we just go out and destroy things.”
Follow Don Wall on Twitter at @DonWall_DCN.