Ontario construction stakeholders praised the government’s new marketing campaign designed to attract new recruits to the skilled trades, calling it a smart first step in dealing with labour shortages in the sector.
Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, launched the multi-media campaign Jan.10 at Toronto’s George Brown College, noting that last year there were 200,000 job postings that went unfilled in Ontario — 13,000 in construction.
The program carries the tagline Find a Career You Wouldn’t Trade and includes a series of videos and graphics that will be presented at movie theatres, Tim Horton’s outlets and online over eight weeks.
The campaign was developed by the Montreal-based firm Sid Lee, recently the source of creative for the Toronto Raptors.
“It is quite impressive,” said Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, who attended the launch.
“It looks like it is designed to shift the thinking of parents about the trades. Of course, parents have influence over their children, over the academic and careers path they take. Hopefully, this will provide them with some positive information about the trades and the fulfilling careers that are available to young people in the skilled trades,” said Cunningham.
Among the other stakeholders on hand were Skills Ontario CEO Ian Howcroft, Ontario Construction Secretariat CEO Robert Bronk and Jeff Koller, director of government and labour relations for the Interior Systems Contractors of Ontario (ISCA).
“It is encouraging,” said Bronk, calling the ads “punchy” and representing “a good start.”
“Parents and influencers play a big role in focusing their kids on what direction to go into. And this is an important step to dispel the myths that are associated with the trades. They are good-paying and especially if they are unionized, they have pensions and there are things a lot of people such as new immigrants may not be aware of.”
A statement released by Howcroft said, “We look forward to building on our partnership with the government to continue to address the labour shortages in these sectors.”
McNaughton said in an interview that since he was appointed Minister of Labour last June he has held meetings with hundreds of construction stakeholders and initiated research on gaps in the recruitment system.
In Ontario only six per cent of businesses are taking on apprentices, and the national average is 19 per cent,
— Monte McNaughton
Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
“A number of things stuck out to me during the research,” said McNaughton. “For one, young people time and time again would say two things: what constitutes a skilled trade, and how do I become one.
“They say, I know how to become a doctor, I know how to become a lawyer, but I have no idea how to become a carpenter, for example. This first phase of this campaign is about ending the stigma.”
The media outreach is only one step in what will be a phased campaign to address Ontario’s skilled labour shortage, McNaughton said. For starters the government was committed to reaching out to young people from as early as kindergarten to create awareness of the good jobs in the sector.
McNaughton’s collaboration with stakeholders will continue, he said, and he noted he was the first Minister of Labour to march in the Labour Day parade in many years.
“That sends a signal that we need to work together,” he said, adding that when skills development was added to his portfolio in October it represented a further opportunity to engage stakeholders.
Other reforms to the system, McNaughton said, will include simplifying the process of applying for apprenticeships and encouraging businesses to take on apprentices. A new government portal at ontario.ca/trades has been created with information on Ontario’s trades and apprenticeships systems.
“One of the things we are actively working on is a one-window approach to the apprenticeship system where students have one simple place to go and then businesses can follow the students,” he explained.
“We know in Ontario only six per cent of businesses are taking on apprentices, and the national average is 19 per cent. We are lagging behind and we need to encourage businesses to more actively bring on apprentices.”
Koller and Cunningham together explained they hoped that if the recruitment efforts are successful, with more applicants, there would be reforms to the apprenticeship seat-purchase plan. Koller said the province should consider changes to the way it funds training delivery agencies like the ISCA.
Added Cunningham, “The government is going to have to back it up with a commitment to more funding for the seat-purchase plan.”
I am happy to see the efforts being made to represent the trades in a good light with respect to them being admirable career options. The social stigma that trades are only second choice or last chance options for those perceived to not be smart enough for other careers still needs some work. I think that parents need to hear the good news about trades as much as students. I personally pressed on to become an electrician many years ago despite being strongly encouraged to have an academic related career. Helping others to see the value and honour of a career in the trades can only have positive results.
Lastly, something needs to be done with incentivizing employers to hire apprentices. I know first hand the losses that can be incurred when training a new person who is just trying to figure out what they want. There is no point in guiding anyone toward a career that doesn’t suit them. They will be wasting their time as well as the employers time and money, making it less desirable to take on more apprentices. Easing the cost burden during this time of discovery would be a benefit.