Ontario construction stakeholders appear to be unanimous in their praise for recent steps announced by the provincial government to promote the skilled trades to young people but there’s growing curiosity about when the government will reveal further plans for the new Skilled Trades Ontario (STO).
The measures announced Nov. 24 by Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce were said to be a response to recommendations contained in the Apprenticeship Youth Advisors report, released the same day.
The government will spend an additional $90 million over three years to promote the skilled trades to young people, with $2.9 million targeted to expanding the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) for high school students.
The government will increase spending by $77 million annually on its employer achievement incentive program and pre-apprenticeship training and it will continue its marketing campaign to encourage employers to take on more apprentices and to reach out to parents and prospective apprentices. Pre-apprenticeship program participants can also receive living allowances for costs like rent and child care.
“Things are beginning to take shape,” said Ian Cunningham, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA). “There’s lots of work yet to be done and that cannot be done overnight, but the government’s done a pretty good job at attempting to polish up the skilled trades and attract more young people into skilled trades careers.”
“Minister McNaughton has helped to build tremendous momentum on addressing the skills gap in Ontario,” said Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance chair Patrick McManus. “The announcement today on skills development and promotion in schools will make careers in the skilled trades more visible, particularly for those who have historically been underrepresented in our industry.”
OYAP now has 63 recruiters visiting more than 800 schools to reach school-aged children. The government will also be spending $2 million to host Skilled Trades Career Fairs across the province starting this fall.
LIUNA international vice-president Joseph Mancinelli said in a statement he commended the moves and added, “With a significant focus on empowering our future workforce, it is imperative that we work collaboratively to enhance education and exposure into the skilled trades at an early age and highlight the vast opportunities and benefits of this viable career path.”
Erich Schmidt, manager of public affairs for the Ontario General Contractors Association, noted the government recognizes the role “influencers” such as parents, school guidance counsellors and core teachers can play in promoting the trades.
Other stakeholders issuing supportive statements were Jim Hogarth, president of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, and Ian DeWaard, provincial director of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
Karen Renkema, Ontario vice-president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said the government is “moving the ball forward” but warned the government’s focus on young people put workers who join the trades later in life at a disadvantage.
The government noted the average age of people entering the trades is 29.
Cunningham described a typical career path of apprentices before they commit to the skilled trades, bouncing from school to other jobs, and called it “the lost decade.”
“Parents have to be convinced that being an electrician or carpenter or a sheet metal worker is an appropriate career choice for their child,” he said.
One of the three Apprenticeship Youth Advisors, Jennifer Green, highlighted five barriers to recruiting young people to the trades as outlined in their report and said the measures being taken by the government reflected “the majority of our recommendations.”
Schmidt also noted, “We’ve been working with the government quite closely through their consultations and you see the results right here.”
The government statement indicated STO, the new regulatory agency replacing the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), will further take steps to promote the skilled trades when it is launched in January. Two observers, Cunningham and Ian Howcroft, CEO of Skills Ontario, acknowledged there was uncertainty in the sector given that STO was just a month from launch with few details of its administration released.
Cunningham said he had heard STO would be launched Jan. 2.
Current OCOT CEO and registrar George Gritziotis will not be transferred to STO. A government source said there would be an announcement of the new CEO and other operating details in early January.
The government statement acknowledged that Skills Ontario has been a good partner in promoting the skilled trades and Howcroft said, “We’re hoping that we find our way forward and they leverage what Skills Ontario has been doing for 30-plus years as we’ve grown, and the government has invested more in us and increased their support to us over the last two, three years.
“There’s an opportunity for a great mesh,” said Howcroft, referring to STO.
“The last thing I think would be good for the system is to create competition and create duplication and replication and more confusion.”