The CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) is calling for more and different types of resources to be applied to the recruitment of apprentices as the prime way to meet the dire needs in the sector.
Bob Bronk issued a year-end statement and offered analysis of what apprenticeship strategies are working well in the province and what is lacking.
He said the provincial and federal governments have caught on that major financial supports are needed to fund training, and that institutionally, the parallel training systems offered by colleges and unions are more than adequate to process the next generation of apprentices.
BuildForce Canada said in its latest construction forecast labour challenges could persist through to 2026 due to strong residential construction markets and a growing inventory of current and proposed major ICI projects.
“I don’t think the system is broke,” said Bronk. “I think Ontario has the best apprenticeship program system in North America.
“But it’s all relative, right? I think where the issue lies is in recruitment. I think it’s the awareness. I think more resources need to be put into the recruitment stage.”
An OCS report from 2022 noted the unionized construction sector’s annual contribution to training was estimated to be just over $146.4 million in 2019. The total collective capital investment in 100 union locals or joint union-employer training facilities across Ontario between 2013 and 2019 was estimated at $325 million.
Bronk noted the unionized training centres often welcome non-union apprentices, meaning the large capital investments the unions have made benefit both non-union and union.
“The union sector is actually subsidizing the non-union sector,” he said.
Last year, Bronk said, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton took the big step of extending Training Delivery Agent status to several compulsory trade union training centres. But overall, Bronk asserted, whether training is delivered by colleges or unions, the support systems and funding in Ontario are superb.
“The provincial government has been very, very generous with their grants…for capital investment for training apprentices,” Bronk said, adding the federal government with its Union Training and Innovation Program and others have been equally supportive.
“I’m not aware of any training centre that says, ‘oh man, we need this money.’
“I don’t think that is the big issue.”
Bronk also gives a passing grade to the growing information networks that are being developed.
Examples of new or expanded websites include the new Skilled Trades Ontario (STO) site, the Building Trades Construction Training and Apprenticeship Ontario site and the website of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. He also saluted STO for its new trade fairs.
“The ministry has really put a lot of attention on to trying to expose younger people to the trades,” Bronk said. “Despite the fact that we had a pandemic, I think awareness is growing. More and more parents I think are open to the idea and looking at that possibility for their kids.”
Bronk said as a next step, recruiters need to find more sophisticated ways of reaching out. Potential recruits have to be able to actually see and feel and touch what that trade does and what equipment they’re using. Young people are often looking around for information on careers and have not settled on a plan in high school.
“It’s typical of the age group, when you’re in your late teens, you’re 19 or in your early 20s, you often don’t have a clue of really what you want to do.”
There needs to be more information on the different trades, on working conditions, on whether a trade is high or low tech, and whether they work indoors or out.
“All those kinds of things are really important in terms of what you choose, and your personality,” said Bronk.
“Being more informed before they get into it would increase retention rates.”
It goes without saying, Bronk said, that current efforts on multiple fronts to recruit from under-represented sectors such as women and Indigenous groups should continue to receive a high profile, and he praises initiatives from groups such as Canada’s Building Trades Unions to collaborate with the federal Ministry of Immigration to expand efforts to bring in skilled workers who can contribute right away.
“Having more robust recruitment resources…will greatly improve recruitment and also retention rates,” he said.
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