With the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) winding down, the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) has a wish list of what should be put in place to regulate the apprenticeship and skilled trades system in Ontario.
For starters, the union believes a new division should be established within the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) to help fill the void that will be left as a result of OCOT folding.
The new division should have a “clear and dedicated focus” on the province’s apprenticeship and skilled trades system, according to 10-page brief on the matter submitted by CLAC recently to the MLTSD.
CLAC wants the division to be led by an assistant deputy minister and assume the responsibilities of OCOT’s registrar and be structured in a manner like the Prevention Office of the Ministry of Labour. MLTSD would assume enforcement responsibility by increasing the number of safety branch inspectors.
“In our view, OCOT provided certain valuable supports that are essential to an industry that is wrestling with how to support current and prospective apprentices,” explains Ian DeWaard, provincial director for CLAC in the Cambridge office.
“There is a massive and collective, industry-wide effort being made to attract people to the skilled trades and to support apprentices. What happens next in the wind-down of OCOT is critically important to the construction industry.”
CLAC is recommending that OCOT’s current public registry and database be retained and maintained so that certificates of qualification can still be searched, and registered apprenticeship numbers can still be tracked.
The public registry and database are essential, DeWaard says, because the MLTSD and supportive players like colleges, employers and unions need to understand in real time how and when apprentices register and how they are progressing through the system.
We believe that efforts to compartmentalize skill sets will put workers and the public at risk,
— Ian DeWaard
Christian Labour Association of Canada
“The number of apprentices that fail to complete a program they’ve started is as high as 60 per cent in some trades. By causing apprentices to renew annually, and to report progress, the MLTSD can analyze where barriers exist in the system, when apprentices are dropping off, and which employers are supporting and hiring apprentices.”
Tracking apprentices also ensures the safety of the public and workers, CLAC maintains, because there are regulatory limits on how many apprentices can be employed in each workplace.
DeWaard says to work in certain compulsory trades workers must be either a certified journeyperson or a registered apprentice, and by capturing the right data annually, as well as at the time an apprentice is registered, the task of enforcing these basic requirements can be performed by health and safety inspectors.
“Doing so may require additional inspectors to be hired, but these inspectors are already responsible for a wide range of workplace safety compliance checks, and so an increased number is not only a cost-effective route to apprenticeship enforcement but will increase the number of provincial health and safety inspectors generally, which is also in the public interest.”
CLAC maintains that making use of existing MLTSD resources leverages the expertise and investment and avoids the need to create a new enforcement unit with redundant or simultaneous activity.
A public registry and database that tracks progress of an apprentice will also help organizations that work to ensure an apprentice can succeed, says DeWaard.
“In order for these organizations to work in concert, it’s important to know how an apprentice is progressing. By tracking progress, each of these organizations can play a more active role in assisting the apprentice toward completing an apprenticeship.”
CLAC also offered several recommendations and comments with respect to defining the scope of work of the respective trades.
The union wants the existing regulation on scope of trades, as outlined in the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009, to be maintained and the Ontario Labour Relations Board to continue to be the forum for resolving contractual claims by construction craft unions related to work jurisdiction.
CLAC also maintains that a Certificate of Qualification and Red Seal Certificate should not be diminished as a result of development of a new regulatory model for the apprenticeship and skilled trades training system.
Meanwhile, CLAC opposes any efforts to reduce or compartmentalize skills sets within the scopes of practice of the trades.
“The scope of work performed by each trade is a contentious issue,” says DeWaard.
“We believe that efforts to compartmentalize skill sets will put workers and the public at risk. The expertise and knowledge acquired by a tradesperson is, in totality, a means to ensure that the performance of certain work is performed safely.
“We’re also concerned that a skills set model would devalue the credentials that a tradesperson works to acquire. The earn-as-you-learn approach to journeyperson status, results in a great, well-paying career and is achieved with no tuition debt. That model is a major incentive to young people that are considering the best options for their future.”
DeWaard says dismantling that system would not only make workers less safe but inevitably lead to lower paid work that constrains the range of skills of a certified journeyperson to a set of repeatable, low-skilled, low-wage tasks.
“That is not a path that leads to meeting the construction demands of Ontario’s economy.”
In the meantime, CLAC also wants the province to maintain the journeyperson candidate classification so an individual can stay in for up to one year after a certificate of apprenticeship is issued.
As is currently the case, the certificate of qualification exam may be written any time, but a candidate can’t work in a compulsory trade one year after a certificate of apprenticeship has been issued.
CLAC believes if this option is removed, there will be a spike in non-completions.
“This requirement, introduced by OCOT, helped incentivize completions by the many who had failed to conclude their apprenticeship programs in a timely manner.”