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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Employer incentives should be central to Ontario’s skilled trades reform

Stephen Hamilton
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Employer incentives should be central to Ontario’s skilled trades reform

It’s the perfect storm.

Ontario’s economy is on the comeback. There’s growth in the province’s construction sector. Now, couple that with troubling labour market data that shows COVID-19 has made apprenticeship registrations and completion rates even worse.

Ontario simply does not have enough skilled trade workers as the economy and construction ramp up. Measures introduced by the province to move skilled tradespeople through the apprenticeship and training system more efficiently is only part of the solution.

Another part, according to a new report released today by the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), is ensuring employers have the support they need to keep up skills training.

Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaugton makes it clear we cannot do without tradespeople.

“Skilled trades workers are the engine of our economy.”

To keep that engine running, the province introduced the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act, aimed at making the apprenticeship system more flexible and accessible to people who want to make their living in the skilled trades. But those career aspirations could not be realized without the contribution of employers. They’re largely responsible for training skilled trades workers. And they’re also the ones who carry all the costs associated with that training.

The report commissioned by OSTA entitled Examining Employer Incentives in Ontario’s Skills Training System, finds as the Ontario government makes significant investments in reforming and improving skills training, incentivizing employers to invest in skills training is more important than ever. This includes financial incentives such as grants and subsidies and tax incentives, as well as non-financial encouragement including programs and measures that support companies offering apprenticeships.

The report, which includes input from OSTA member companies, found “a large swath of Ontario’s skilled trades employers in the construction industry don’t benefit from financial incentives that were specifically designed to support those who train new workers.”

This is especially true in the voluntary trades, where most employers opt to train workers independent of the formal apprenticeship system. But for both compulsory and voluntary employers many issues remain the same.

There are high upfront costs in training people new to construction and many smaller businesses do not want the liability or paperwork associated with apprenticeships. Employers also believe that time constraints and trouble finding workers with the right mix of skills prevents them from making further investments in skills training and/or apprenticeships. These are issues that must be addressed.

The pandemic has only compounded the challenge of rebuilding the province’s skilled trades workforce.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum estimates new apprenticeship registrations dropped by more than 30 per cent in 2020, with completion rates falling by approximately 40 per cent. This puts further strain on a construction and maintenance industry that has to recruit 100,000 new construction workers this decade to counter the wave of baby boom retirements and keep up with new infrastructure projects.

As Ontario’s economic activity and construction industry accelerate, the only thing missing is skilled workers. This is a huge worry for employers. A Bank of Canada survey of the business community this past summer found while economic optimism is on the rise, so too are concerns that labour constraints could cause significant challenges.

Employers are the trainers and mentors who open doors and create the training and apprenticeship opportunities. As the skilled trades shortage worsens, providing the support and encouragement that employers need is crucial. When they invest their time, expertise and funds in skills training, they make it possible for more jobseekers to make a good living and career in the skilled trades.

Stephen Hamilton is chair of OSTA and Ontario director of public affairs for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. Send Industry Perspectives comments and column ideas to

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