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‘Broken’ Ontario skilled trades admin system on road to recovery: Young

Don Wall
‘Broken’ Ontario skilled trades admin system on road to recovery: Young

Year one of Ontario’s newly depoliticized trades administration system was smooth sailing says Skilled Trades Ontario’s (STO) CEO Melissa Young.

But, Young admitted, sparks could fly in 2023 and 2024 as the provincial government, now responsible for the tough decisions that STO has been spared, revisits policies that divided Ontario’s construction sector prior to 2018.

Jan. 1 last year marked the launch of STO, the replacement for the contentious Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) which Premier Doug Ford’s government scrapped after his election in 2018.

“Given my experience working in other jurisdictions in Canada, in positions very like the one I’m in today, early on when I started I didn’t realize that the system was quite as broken as it was here in Ontario,” said Young. “I think what happened was it was allowed to get way too politicized.

“It is really about getting a culture and a mindset to the industry in Ontario, that apprenticeship is about education and training. It’s not about jurisdiction.”

Under the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act introduced by Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton in 2021, STO has a mandate to focus on core policies such as the labour shortage, simplifying access to services and promoting the trades.

Left for the minister to sort out once STO got up and running were such issues as prescribing and deprescribing trades, reviewing scopes of practice, reassessing journeyperson/apprenticeship ratios, reviewing trade classifications with possible changes to the roster of compulsory trades, and compliance and enforcement through the ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate.

Young said some of those decisions, such as reviewing ratios should not create tension, but suggested others such as scopes of practice will lead to significant discussion.

The timetable for pronouncements on those issues has not been determined, Young said, but she expects some decisions could be made in the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

STO will play a consulting role on scopes of practice and other matters, Young said. She expects there to be broad consulting with stakeholders if scopes of practice are reconsidered.

“It’ll become very political because that’s where everybody wants to push and pull and grab and take things for their trade,” she said. “Our role is really to help depoliticize that by saying, ‘OK, here is what is in the Red Seal occupational standard for X trade, nationally, so we can’t deviate from that here in Ontario, as much as this organization over here would like to have a piece of this occupation.’”

As for prescribing and deprescribing trades, there is ample precedent for processes in the four Atlantic provinces where Young worked, so STO will be confident in recommending a process for the minister to follow.

“He or she will be extremely well informed. It’s not just because somebody just doesn’t want it to be a trade anymore. It’s, OK, there’s research that needs to be done…and processes for all this that actually exist in the other jurisdictions.”

Similarly, she said, a proven process will be in place to assist the minister in making decisions on compulsory and non-compulsory trades.

Despite a “rough start” to the year as Young and her team set about to reverse the three-year process of shutting down OCOT and setting up a new Crown agency, STO has met most of its markers as established in the minister’s mandate letter, she said. STO is still in the rollout phase, heading towards a mature state, Young said.

Accomplishments in its first year included setting up a new program of Level Up! career fairs that were attended by 13,000 students, rebranding and establishing a much more user-friendly website intended for one-stop service, rolling out new services for skilled trades administrators and receiving approval to implement training and curriculum standards.

Young said STO can also check off setting up a process for reviewing workers who have not completed an apprenticeship program in Ontario and establishing a public register of workers in the compulsory trades.

“One of the biggest highlights for me were parent evenings that we had,” Young said. “One was in Mississauga and we had 460 parents show up that night, that’s unheard of.

“Those are the influencers of our youth.”

As for the website, STO went from zero-to-low traffic to 4,000 to 6,000 visits a week, lasting two to five minutes.

At one apprenticeship session in Guelph, Young said, a journeyperson millwright who was training for a new trade compared his two experiences negotiating the apprenticeship system and said it is “day and night…I can’t believe how simplified it is.”

Evaluating non-apprentices through a trade equivalency assessment has been another success, Young said, with 3,800 completed in 2022.

Over the next year STO will be taking on a more public face, Young said. In future, the ministry will be transferring such responsibilities as registering training agreements, administering certificate of qualification exams and issuing certificates of apprenticeship.

“The whole system has been put on hold since 2018 up until January of 2021. So, definitely…there’s some catch-up work and we’re doing the best we can to make that happen.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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