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Government, Labour

College dean calls out employers on apprentice hiring

John Bleasby
College dean calls out employers on apprentice hiring

The skilled trade shortage across the country haunts the construction industry, and challenges both government and training colleges. Recent shifts in cabinet responsibilities and new funding announcements from the Ontario government are the latest attempt to re-brand the skilled trades as attractive career choices for young people.

However, there’s more to the issue, says one expert.

Mac Greaves is Associate Dean at Georgian College’s Midland and Bracebridge campuses, both a few hours north of Toronto. Greaves also chairs the Heads of Apprenticeship Training committee (HAT) that represents the 24 public colleges in Ontario that supply over 80 per cent of the province’s apprentices. That puts him at the crossroads of training and hiring.

While the recent program and funding announcements are welcome, Greaves sees a critical bottleneck in the uptake of apprentices from industry itself. It’s a situation that concerns him deeply.

At a recent annual gathering of regional employers, Greaves was stunned by statements made during the open discussions.

“Two flatly said they will not hire apprentices. One said that they only wanted to hire certified tradespeople. Then they asked what the Ministry was going to do to increase the number of those certified tradespeople.”

They may not be the only employers thinking that way. Some believe that if they make the commitment to train an apprentice through to certification, the apprentice will then simply leave for another company that pays more.

“That is such a short-sighted and out-dated attitude,” says Greaves. “What appears to be lost to them is the fact that if you are not hiring apprentices, you are the problem, not the solution. And if you can’t retain your workers, then you’ve got another problem — it’s not someone else’s issue. For a company to stand up and openly say they’re not going to hire apprentices, they may as well just shut their doors.”

“There are, in fact, no certified journeymen out of work right now,” continues Greaves. “If they are out of work, you don’t want to hire them because there’s a reason. The only certified tradespeople you can really hire are the ones you steal from someone else.”

Many construction sector employers have told Greaves that while they are in a dire situation, they don’t have time to train apprentices, despite the reduction in required apprentice-to-journeymen ratios down to 1:1.

Demographic projections do not favour those who shun the hiring of apprentices. Studies of the Simcoe County and Muskoka workforce cited, by Greaves, state that in 1980 there were six people under the age of 25 for every worker aged 60 — today it is virtually the reverse. It’s not getting better either. In fact, Greaves suggests there won’t be a return to levels seen even as recently as five years ago until 2033. “Short-term solutions are only going to be short-term. We’re going to have another 12 or more years when it’s going to be tough to find young people entering the workforce.”

There’s also strong competition across all industries for the few young workers who are out there. Greaves uses the example of the long-term health care sector.

“They are critically desperate for entry level PSWs (personal support workers). They’re targeting the same market as manufacturers and contractors.”

One local health network Greaves knows about is offering students $5,000 to assist with school tuition and books. “That’s the kind of competition that we’re seeing in the skilled trades area for those young people entering the workforce.”

Educators like Greaves feel that unless reluctant employers drop their resistance to apprenticeship hiring, efforts by government and colleges to attract young people to the skilled trades will be thwarted. Who will sign up for training if there’s no potential for a job at the end?

It’s an attitude that needs to change, says Greaves. “We need to educate the employers.”

Recent Comments (3 comments)

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Jason Stainrod Image Jason Stainrod

This article is way off. There are lots of tradesman out off work that are more than capable of working and doing a great job. Truth is, the amount of mega industrial projects has ground to a complete halt in Canada. Investors have left at a record pace as politics continue to put up roadblocks. Your article says “There are, in fact, no certified journeymen out of work right now,”. Unionized labor in Red Seal trades has major unemployment. Greaves is way off. I know, i work in the industry, i’m a Red Seal steamfitter.

Brad Gordon Image Brad Gordon

With 38 years as a red seal plumber/pipefitter behind me, i recognize this problem. During the nineties, when this was coming to a head, it was discussed a lot by myself and many others. Who almost to a man, were disillusioned by the state of affairs. Most of my income in the nineties up to 2010, was earned by yours truly chasing work all over the country. By far, most jobs had no subsidy to cover living away from home costs, and this expense is not tax deductible in Canada anyways. No one wanted to steer their children in the direction of a construction trade anyways as it meant years of working poor..up and down the highways chasing work and trying to stay ahead of the bill collectors. Reasonable subsistence could be mandated or at least allow the travellers to claim the expense as a legitimate working expense. In any event, this problem has been around for years, and I, for one, doubt that anything will ever be done about it because the tradesmen and their families, would be the only ones originally benefiting from an improvement in this. Give it a few years though.

sean Image sean

One problem is the government is making only certain trades mandatory to have a licence i.e. electricians and companies are using unskilled workers to do the other trades and paying less money to the worker because he doesn’t have certification in that trade eg millwrights.
If you need an apprenticeship to do a trade then non-licenced workers shouldn’t be able to be hired regardless if they can manage to fumble through it or not …….whats the point of taking an apprenticeship if companies don’t need to hire someone that has served their time.
Companies should have to have 1 apprentice for every 2 tradesmen and make it enforceable. Also have whoever is in government looking after these apprentices, follow up on their training and make sure they are being trained properly in every phase of the apprenticeship .
I had 5 apprentices at my last job, only once did I see the ministry come in and that was when they were signed up and the company basically used them for cheap labour. The only time they learned anything was during the school phase .


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