Three industry leaders have been appointed as advisers by the Ontario government to engage with youth and key partners to create more supportive pathways into the skilled trades and apprenticeship system.
“A personal goal for this committee is to help us return to an environment where gaining an apprenticeship in a skilled trade career is treated with the same enthusiasm and optimism that pursuing a post-secondary education holds,” said Adam Melnick, director of government and community relations with the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 95, who was named one of the advisers. “There was a time that this was true. I hope as part of this committee we can help the current efforts by many in achieving the return of this perspective.”
Melnick will be working alongside Andrew Pariser, vice-president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, and Jennifer Green, director of competitions and young women’s initiatives with Skills Ontario, who is also an industrial mechanic millwright by trade.
Pariser and Melnick were appointed as Training and Skills Advisers by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities on Sept. 23 for a period of two years with a mandate to consult with employers, apprentices, skilled tradespeople and training providers on issues related to the skilled trades and apprenticeship system, specifically portable skill sets and risk-based restricted activities. Shortly after the appointment there was a cabinet shuffle and the Ministry of Labour became the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
“Now that there is a new ministry they’re moving ahead with a new approach,” said Pariser. “The training and skills adviser is no longer and this is a brand new appointment.
“What we’re looking to do there is create more supportive pathways into the skilled trades and apprenticeship system, reduce stigma, remove barriers, support retention and successful completion of apprenticeship programs and support the overall success including transition to employment in the skilled trades.”
Part of the mandate of the new youth advisers is to advise on increasing awareness of the skilled trades among elementary school students, starting in Grade 1, with a focus on Grades 7 and 8, and on making it easier for high school students to learn about the options and to begin an apprenticeship pathway while continuing to earn secondary school credits. The advisers will then report back to the ministry.
“We are experiencing a wide range of voices trying to bring attention and to shine a spotlight to these opportunities for meaningful, well-paying careers,” Melnick explained. “That is fantastic, however, there are such a variety of voices talking all at once and in different directions that the intended audiences are appearing to be struggling to hear what is being shared.
“What we can do is help to bring together the efforts of many and help focus and harmonize the messaging to increase the impact and effectiveness of the work underway by so many, in hopes to not only benefit the next generation of skilled trade apprentices but also those who are advocating and promoting these amazing careers.”
The appointments were announced along with a $43 million investment which includes $5 million, an increase of $3.5 million, to Skills Ontario to increase awareness of the trades among elementary and secondary students; $17 million, an increase of $2.3 million, in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program to send representatives to schools to provide high school students with the opportunity to learn about work in the skilled trades and train as apprentices while completing their Ontario Secondary School Diploma; and $21 million in Ontario’s Pre-Apprenticeship Training program, giving students and graduates exposure to a variety of jobs in the skilled trades.
The advisers will consult with parents, unionized and non-unionized employers, journeypersons, teachers, unions, current apprentices, young people, colleges, Indigenous institutes and others.
“This review will have a huge consultation. We’re going to be reaching out to all relevant stakeholders,” said Pariser. “The first step is to create a work plan and get information out to the public and stakeholders on how we’re going to move forward.”
With one in three journeypersons in Ontario at retirement age or older and the average age of an apprentice at 29 years old, there is a looming labour shortage and a need to get more young people into the skilled trades, said Green.
“That starts with figuring out how we can attract young people to these careers and successfully move them through the apprenticeship system starting when they are in grade school,” said Green.
“If our work is successful, it will be win-win-win. A win for young people who will be on track to lucrative and rewarding careers. A win for businesses who will see an influx in talented new apprentices. And a win for the people of Ontario who will see the benefits of having enough electricians, plumbers and more in the province.”
Green said there is a need to get more young women and underrepresented groups into the trades.
“We can do better and I think that’s recognized by this government,” said Green. “I have been in discussions with (Labour) Minister (Monte) McNaughton about needing to ensure that our talent pipeline reflects the record-high investments that are being made by government in public infrastructure and the tremendous growth across the economy.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.