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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: OCOT too broken to be salvaged

Stephen Hamilton
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: OCOT too broken to be salvaged

The Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA) has long-been a critic of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) and so we feel it’s important to respond to some of the revisionist history in the recent article “Building Trades weigh in on OCOT replacement.”

OCOT was a failed experiment that had morphed into a self-serving and unwieldy bureaucracy, whose claim to fame was fining barbershops, enflaming labour-relations conflicts and creating more red tape. Let’s do a quick refresher on OCOT’s failed track record.

Rather than wind down OCOT, and build a better, more modernized skilled trades system, it has been suggested that the approach should have been to “change a couple of things the College could do better.”

A couple of things?

The reality is that OCOT was so broken, that nothing short of a total tear down will do.

Here’s why.

From the get-go, OCOT’s governance structure was just plain wrong. Devised by the previous government, it fell into the trap of being controlled by a small group of GTA-centric special interests. As it became operational, it became clear to everyone that what was created was not as advertised. 

The previous government saw this and undertook two significant reviews, one by Tony Dean and the other Chris Bentley, to reform OCOT based on the significant negative feedback from industry and workers. 

Several legislative amendments were made to address some of the concerns that both reviewers made. However, those changes were only scratching the surface to address what was a genuinely flawed institution.

Dominated by representatives of compulsory certified trades, the priority was blatant self-interest.

Making more trades compulsory expanded their financial base and created greater scarcity in the labour supply. This inherent conflict of interest bred division.

It wasn’t long before OCOT became a polarizing distraction. It fixated on divisive regulations and actively asserted favoured unions jurisdictional scope through its enforcement division. This came at the expense of the public interest, non-union contractors and rival unions. 

Recall the case of Stacey Electric; a contractor working on the Windsor Herb Gray Parkway in 2014, where labourers were installing conduit. This work had been done without electricians for decades, without any noted safety concerns or regulatory concerns cited by other agencies like the ESA. This wasn’t good enough for OCOT enforcement, which decided it had the authority to issue fines repeatedly to the company, unless it performed the work to OCOT’s interpretation of how the industry works. 

A regulatory enforcement arm with the power to impact who gets to do what work, without a clear safety rationale, is dangerous. Its actions directly affected the livelihoods of workers – not because of health and safety – but because of OCOT’s confusing and inconsistent approach to enforcing a trades scope of practice.

This should strike us all as extreme government overreach.   

While jurisdictional turf wars were enflamed by OCOT, the more important issues of apprenticeship completion rates, promotion of the trades, modernizing teaching and updating curriculums, were not addressed.

While OCOT was operating, employers will tell you the skills gap grew wider without any direction by OCOT of what should be done to address this problem. 

It’s clear that OCOT’s structure made up of labour management styled trade boards didn’t work. And yet, some insist that trade boards should stay, despite clear gaps that the labour/management OCOT model created.

While employer and worker representation should be a component of governance, they cannot be the only voices at the table. Skills Ontario, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and Ontario’s Colleges were effectively shut out of OCOT decision-marking.  

As a result, Ontario lagged far behind the rest of Canada in apprenticeship registrations. And completion rates dropped too. The 2016 Annual Report of the Auditor General shows that fewer than half (47 per cent) of those who started an apprenticeship program in Ontario, finished it.

With as many as one in five future jobs in Ontario in the skilled trades, there’s no more time for spinning wheels. The Doug Ford government recognizes the urgency and consequences of not building a workforce that’s equipped with the skills that employers need and our economy demands in order to grow and stay competitive.

We commend the Ford government for its leadership in winding down OCOT and lowering apprenticeship ratios. We support its plan to take the province’s skilled trades system in a completely different direction, by working to make it more modern, flexible and appealing to a whole new generation.

This government is on the right track. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that OCOT’s replacement does a better job at closing the skills gap. Ontario has an opportunity to become a leader in the skilled trades. Now is not the time to turn back the clock.

Stephen Hamilton is chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. Send comments and Industry Perspectives op-ed ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

Recent Comments (3 comments)

comments for this post are closed

Ben Stegner Image Ben Stegner

There needs to be clarification.
OCOT was an Independent Organization not funded by tax payers only Ontario Trades Workers yearly membership fees.
The Doug Ford powers closed OCOT three years ago and only now a huge crate of band aids handed out by our Province is the cure, like really three years to Wake Up and support Trades in Ontario.
OCOT had a fair balance of non union and union members from all Trades as per the Legislation/Act and only allowed certified Trades Workers to be on any Board.
All Trades Workers paid into OCOT by Legislated annual membership fees,
where are the Millions of dollars of paid fees that should have been putting food on family dinner tables for the last three years, where has the Province put the absorbed dollars.
My trade is an Electrician, it was part of my apprenticeship of Trade not only to be responsible of installing conduit and the resulting conductors and much more, this is my scope of Practice that earns me a living, I do get very worried about anyone else performing my job and the possible result of fire, massive power outages and any other related perils, I should have the right to perform and complete the entire work and the legal enforcement of work performed, I can not trust a handyman to perform any percentage of my work nor be responsible for related failures thereof.
Prior to creation of OCOT the Province was not capable of Ontario Skilled Trades Legislation, Apprenticeships and Governance, and now after closing OCOT three years ago our Leaders have a master plan that we can hear ice cracking under our feet while fishing on a warm lake in late December.
Why educate and support anyone in a professional field without monitoring safe results and skills required by Legislation. The Covid19 problem is a perfect excuse for any resulting failure. No independent Organization such as OCOT should not be closed by any Government as it destroys democracy, freedoms were abused by the Charter of Rights.
I look forward to any reply,
Ben Stegner

Ben Stegner Image Ben Stegner

It is of Great interest that the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance website has been shutdown and has Expired, so much for united progress.
I look forward to any replys
Regards
Ben Stegner

Kurt Metz Image Kurt Metz

OCOT opinions should be based on facts not myths
While there is much to dispute in Stephen Hamilton’s opinion piece regarding the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), I’d like to focus on his most glaring and factual inaccuracies.
Hamilton incorrectly suggests a contractor working on the Windsor Herb Gray Parkway was “issued fines repeatedly” due to the fact the company’s labourers were installing conduit in contravention of the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act. In fact, no fines were issued by OCOT to that contractor or to any other business in relation to conduit. This statement is blatantly false and such inaccuracies were part of the propaganda machine that continued to interfere with efforts to undermine the College and its role in ensuring only those legally licensed in Ontario were doing work identified within a compulsory trade’s scope of practise.
Hamilton also implies there should be no enforcement for behavior that had not been flagged by a regulator in the past. Up until the establishment of OCOT, there had never been any organization given the sole authority to ensure that only those who had invested in the training and skills and completed the required Certification of Qualification could work in compulsory trades. Safety is about prevention, not an afterthought. I’m sure the many families across the province who have lost loved ones on job sites due to lack of training or improper safety precautions would agree.
OCOT was polarizing due to actions of special interest groups, many who didn’t want to pay the rate for registered apprentices, instead underpaying untrained young people to do dangerous work at a helper’s rate. You can learn more by hearing Adam’s story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ92mXsXR2A
The College was also plagued by challenges related to overseeing both voluntary and compulsory trades, the inheritance of falsely inflated apprenticeship numbers and an outdated system that had neglected the trades for decades.
We look forward to working with government to help make sure we create a system we can all be proud of and that is worthy of Ontario’s hard working skilled trades professionals who play a key role in helping build and sustain a robust economy for today and the future.

Kurt Metz 309A construction electrician

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