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OGCA delegates eager for news on STO rollout

Don Wall
OGCA delegates eager for news on STO rollout
DON WALL — Skilled Trades Ontario chair Michael Sherrard and board member Karen Renkema offered an update on the new crown agency to delegates attending the Ontario General Contractors Association Construction Symposium April 8.

The new crown agency Skilled Trades Ontario (STO) has a promising future with a long-term strategy being developed to promote skilled trades in the province, two STO board members said during a recent presentation to contractors, but right now it is still taking baby steps.

STO chair Michael Sherrard was accompanied by board member Karen Renkema as they delivered a progress report to delegates attending the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) Construction Symposium held recently.

Renkema outlined the steps taken to regulate the skilled trades going back 15 years including the founding of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) in 2012 and its demise upon the election of the Doug Ford government in 2018, while Sherrard discussed consultations leading to the creation of STO within the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act last year.

Launch day for STO was Jan. 1 but the changes are so broad, Renkema said in an interview, with significant staff turnover and major policy and administrative issues remaining to be decided, that the rollout will be protracted.

“It’s being built and we need the staff there to deliver things,” said Renkema, a vice-president with the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.

“There was a lot of attrition that happened and right now, the focus is just getting the people there to be able to run these programs.

“We’re just in stage one. We’re looking forward to when the whole apprenticeship pathway is run by Skilled Trades Ontario, and I think that it’ll be a game-changer for people trying to get into the industry.”

The April 8 OGCA session featured an active question and answer period, reflecting, Renkema said, the importance of getting trades issues right. Right now, she said, decisions still have to be made on elemental policy and processes.

“It’s just so much in its infancy,” said Renkema.

Sherrard, a construction lawyer with Sherrard Kuzz LLP, served as chair of the Skilled Trades Panel that consulted broadly. In its phase one report the panel advised Minister of Labour, Training and Skilled Development Monte McNaughton on a broad range of issues including industry advisory committees, the trade equivalency assessment process, the public register of trades and the value of separating compliance and enforcement from training and certification.

A key difference between OCOT and the STO regime, Sherrard explained, is that the MOL assumes authority over compliance and enforcement. Other functions likely to go to the ministry include trade classifications, meaning determining compulsory versus voluntary trades; prescribing and deprescribing trades; and scopes of practice and ratios.

That means the buck stops with McNaughton on many issues that had opposing factions warring during the OCOT era, Sherrard said.

“It’s a crown agency, which I’m now being taught, frankly, and I put it that way on purpose,” Sherrard said, referring to STO. “There’s a significant difference in structure and governance between OCOT, the self-regulating college, and a crown agency.”

Sherrard admitted there is “still confusion on the street with respect to what Skilled Trades Ontario is doing” and proceeded to outline how the agency is moving on 10 objectives that were contained in section 40 of the implementing legislation.

A key task is the modernization of standards and curriculum, which Sherrard said have not been updated for a long time.

“So if you’re wondering what they’re doing right now, as we speak, they’re working diligently on trying to get those standards and therefore after that, the curriculum updated.”

Other priorities include promoting the trades, conducting research and reestablishing the public register of trades and apprentices, which at this point will only offer information on compulsory trades.

That last point is proving to be contentious, Sherrard said, with stakeholders asking the last three months why the voluntary trades were omitted.

Sherrard also addressed the decision to abandon the role of trade boards.

“We got great reaction from stakeholders who said it’s one thing to eliminate trade boards, but where’s our voice? How will we maintain our voice?” he said.

The chair noted STO CEO Melissa Young has been given the power to strike industry-based committees, “and I can tell you, our CEO is very, very interested in having the relevant people put together at the right time.”

Not only is there extensive work to be done during the initial phase of STO, Sherrard noted, but next comes the release of the phase two report of the Skilled Trades Panel. That will make further recommendations on trade prescriptions and classifications and new training pathways, among other matters.

Renkema had said the OCOT era was dominated by debates over compulsory trades, and Sherrard suggested there will again be a diversity of opinion on compulsory versus voluntary trades when that issue is revisited.

“I suggest there will be a higher bar with respect to having another trade recognized as compulsory,” he said.

Also in the works for phase two is upgrading the digital portal and the transfer of apprenticeship registration from the MOL to STO.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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