Less than a month into his new role as the head of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), Steven Crombie said going forward the alliance will focus on ensuring the provincial government continues providing funding for the skilled trades and reducing barriers to entry.
“The very first issue objective that I have undertaken and identified is ensuring the provincial government continues with its funding of the Skills Development Fund (SDF),” said Crombie, adding the government has provided three rounds of the funding. “It’s empowered employers and supported their training and upskilling of their workers and allowing them the flexibility to design their own programs.”
SDF offers funding to organizations for innovative projects that address challenges to hiring, training or retaining workers, including apprentices.
Last year, Crombie led a research project, a report OSTA published about employer supports and how government can better support those who conduct training.
“Something that we have long asked the government to consider is putting the power of training back in the employers’ hands,” Crombie explained.
“We know through our own research that employers really are on the front lines of training and government providing that support and recognizing the work that employers are doing through the Skills Development Fund has been fantastic. Continuing the SDF into a fourth round I think will continue to make a huge difference.”
Crombie, who is also the manager of government relations and public affairs at the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association, was appointed chair of the OSTA in January but he has worked with the alliance for years.
“I’ve been involved in skilled trades issues and policy development for just over five years now and I’m really excited to take on a leading role,” he said.
“There is real momentum behind the work that OSTA is doing.”
The provincial government, and in particular Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton, have been putting a lot of attention on the trades, Crombie said.
“We’re already seeing an uptick in folks not only registering for apprenticeships but starting even in the voluntary trades. We attribute that uptick to some of the work that the government has been doing around promotion,” he noted.
In addition to making sure funding continues for skills development, OSTA also wants to make sure the government remains committed to reducing barriers and pathways.
“The government has committed to build 1.5 million new homes,” said Crombie. “We understand Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass and the Ontario Line are major transit objectives. In addition to all of that we have deteriorating infrastructure, so there is going to be a sustained demand on careers in the skilled trades, especially at a time when aging demographics are going to create a tighter labour pinch.”
For OSTA, it’s important there are no new additional barriers introduced.
“What that really means is not adding to the list of compulsory certification trades in Ontario,” Crombie explained.
“We believe in a nimble and agile labour force and particularly in this economy while certain industries may be faltering we want those folks to be able to come into the skilled trades with little to no barriers.”
OSTA is taking a two-pronged approach when it comes to dealing with the labour shortages currently plaguing the industry.
“A good example is Bed, Bath and Beyond just announced that it was closing all of its big box retail stores in the GTA and there are folks working at those big box retail stores that could start a career in the skilled trades, particularly in the voluntary trades. They could be working today,” Crombie said. “We just want to make sure in an uncertain economy that we’re not introducing barriers for folks who may be laid off in one sector to actually join a sector of the economy which is flourishing.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen over the short term with the economy, so making sure folks can shift around into in demand careers as quickly and effectively as possible is going to be a major priority for us.”
Promoting the trades is also crucial.
“OSTA traditionally has been focused on regulation and policy, but I think there is an opportunity for OSTA through its member organizations to increase its promotion effort,” he said, adding he will be speaking with local construction associations and at high schools. “It’s just a little bit more of an outward facing approach this year.”
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