Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton says new measures he announced Oct. 7 represent the biggest reforms to Ontario’s trades and apprenticeship training system in a generation.
The steps included the appointment of a Skilled Trades Panel to consult with stakeholders and recommend a system to replace the Ontario College of Trades, the seven-year-old agency whose dismantlement was announced by the government two years ago.
“The announcement highlights my mission to continue getting more people into the trades and to deal with the skills gap in Ontario,” McNaughton said in an interview with the Daily Commercial News. “The apprenticeship system is outdated and overly complex.
“If we want to solve our looming skilled trades gap we have to make it easier to become an apprentice. So that is why today, we are taking the biggest steps in more than a generation by announcing a digital portal, funding for upgraded training and the appointment of a five-member panel to advise on replacement of the College of Trades.”
A phase of ‘simplification’
The minister announced spending of an additional $75 million over the next two years to help apprentices pay for living expenses during their in-class training and for other measures, boosting the total program budget to $286 million.
New or upgraded programs include a $5.8-million Grant for Apprentice Learning, a $24-million Apprentice Development Benefit, a $211.9-million In-Class Enhancement Fund, a $24-million Apprenticeship Capital Grant, $5.1 million for training delivery agents and $500,000 for pre-apprenticeship training service providers for COVID-19 relief funds, and $4.7 million as part of a multi-year $19.4-million allocation for the apprenticeship portal.
The new program spending and the announcement of the review panel represented a phase of “simplification,” McNaughton said.
High school students contacted during an outreach program last year who showed interest in the skilled trades said they did not know where to start.
“The pathway isn’t clear. That is where the digital portal will help out. We hear, for example, that Ontario is still doing log books using wet ink, or when young people are applying to be an apprentice they are still filling out forms, they are not doing it digitally. So the digital portal will play a key role in modernizing the system.”
A new approach to providing services for the trades
As for the Skilled Trades Panel, McNaughton said he did not want to prejudge the outcome of its nine-month consultation process.
A statement said the new panel, chaired by construction lawyer Michael Sherrard, will be asked to come up with a “new approach to providing services, including compliance with compulsory training and certification.”
The panel will resurrect a reform process started in September 2019, when Andrew Pariser of RESCON and Adam Melnick, director of government and community relations for the Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, Local 95, were appointed training and skills advisers. Those efforts ended due to a realignment of ministry priorities starting in October 2019, explained a ministry spokesperson.
Stakeholder engagement was paused and no further work was conducted.
The other members of the new panel are Jason Ottey, director of government relations for the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 183; Shaun Scott, director of organizational development at Linamar; Melanie Winter, human resources director with Cascades; and Melissa Young, executive director of the National Electrical Trade Council.
The minister indicated many of the issues that divided stakeholders about the College of Trades, such as scopes of trade, enforcement, trades modernization and skill sets, and the roster of compulsory trades, will be up for review.
During his announcement, he stated existing compulsory and non-compulsory trades would remain intact during the review.
“One of the reasons why I was pleased to say that our government intends to restore the existing compulsory and non-compulsory trades classifications was because over the last year I have heard from trades people themselves that certain trades operate in unique working conditions, and we have to prioritize the health and safety conditions of workers such as electricians, which I talked about today. So most of the current compulsory trades, including those in construction, will be maintained in the transition phase, but again there will be lots of discussion about this over the coming months by the expert panel,” McNaughton said.
Stakeholders attending the announcement at Toronto’s Downtown Toyota premises or issuing supportive statements as part of the government’s release included Joseph Mancinelli of LIUNA, Patrick Dillon of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario and Karen Renkema of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance.
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.