One hurdle has been removed for apprentices trying to start their career in the trades with the introduction of the Ontario Tools Grant, say apprenticeship advocates.
“One thing that has always been a challenge for people that are wanting to start an apprenticeship is the initial investment for tools is fairly significant in any apprenticeship program,” explained Cristina Selva, executive director of the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades, adding the funding will be particularly beneficial for at-risk communities. “Having it be a grant that is available to all is one less stumbling block for people that are socio-economically challenged to be able to access apprenticeships in the trades more readily.”
On May 22, the provincial government announced the Ontario Tools Grant which will provide $2.5 million in 2020-21 and $7.5 million in 2021-22, allowing new, eligible apprentices to purchase tools, protective equipment (PPE) and clothing required for their trade.
The provincial government will also forgive more than $10 million in outstanding loans for thousands of apprentices who participated in the Loans for Tools program. About 19,000 apprentices who participated in the program owed an average of $495.
Those in the construction and industrial sector trades will receive $600, those in the motive power sector trades will receive $1,000 and service sector trades will receive $400.
“It’s a positive announcement because a lot of our apprentices may not have been working recently due to COVID-19, so it would have been an additional financial challenge for them to have to pay back the amount,” said Selva. “The fact that they are coming out with a grant program to replace the loan program is even more favourable. It looks like they’ve upped the amount up to $600 for the construction trades.”
To be eligible for the new grant, apprentices must have completed Level 1 training on or after April 1, 2020, be in an active registered training agreement and be registered as an apprentice for at least 12 months.
This gives them a certain amount of freedom, so they don’t have to count so much on the small employer now
— Denise Devlin-Li
George Brown College
Denise Devlin-Li, chair of Apprenticeship and Skilled Trades at George Brown College, said the funding will help students not only buy the tools they need, but also PPE, which will be crucial on every jobsite going forward.
“Everybody’s got safety boots and glasses for the construction trades that we’re in, but nobody has really thought much about masks, face shields or a continuous supply of gloves,” said Devlin-Li.
“A lot of our apprentices work for smaller companies, so this gives them a certain amount of freedom, so they don’t have to count so much on the small employer now.”
Karen Renkema, vice-president, Ontario with the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said the announcements recognize those that need financial assistance and relief in the trades right now and also serves as an attraction and promotion initiative.
“Not only does it help people who are already in the trades but you have to believe those who are not in a trades are sitting up taking notice of the fact that there are a lot of benefits, not only because the work is amazing, but also because the government is so focused on helping the industry attract people into the trades,” Renkema noted.
“There might be some people who saw the announcement and said, ‘maybe this is a valuable option for me moving forward,’ whether it’s a young person trying to deliberate what they are doing after college or university, or a young person coming out of high school. Even people saying, ‘my career might not be COVID-proof moving forward for the next two years.’ It could be for those that are going into second career initiatives too.”
Similarly, Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, said the funding could help attract new people to the industry, especially those who worked in sectors that may not pick up right away during the economic recovery phase post COVID-19.
“So many young people have been working in retail or other service sectors that will probably will remain hard done by over the next year. This is a way to support young people coming into the construction trades where they are so desperately needed,” said Yorke.
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