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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Innovative skills training will help keep Ontario’s infrastructure plans on track

Steven Crombie
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Innovative skills training will help keep Ontario’s infrastructure plans on track

Ontario has big plans. It’s investing billions of dollars in new infrastructure, from homes and highways to hospitals and transit. Making these plans a reality not only requires 100,000 more construction workers this decade, but finding far more efficient and practical ways of preparing them for the huge job ahead.

Employers are the litmus test of the skills training system. They train the vast majority of Ontario’s skilled tradespeople, which gives them a really good handle on the kinds of jobs and training required by industry and our rapidly changing economy.

It’s no surprise that many of the jobs that need to be filled are in the voluntary trades in residential construction.

Right now, Ontario is behind the eight ball in developing a steady supply of skilled labour. It’s not attracting or training enough workers to make today’s ambitious infrastructure plans a reality.

For most trades, it takes two to five years to complete an apprenticeship, which includes thousands of hours of in-class and on-the-job training under the guidance of an employer sponsor.

That doesn’t cut it, not when the province wants to build 1.5 million new homes in 10 years and is currently up against a severe labour shortage that threatens to stall crucial infrastructure projects and the transition to a greener economy.

But there’s a straightforward, practical way to help take some of the pressure off.

Workers that are in shortest supply are those with specialized skill sets that do not need to master the full scope of a trade.

Consider this: What if many of the 1,400 workers recently laid off at Bed Bath & Beyond for example, were able to register in pre-apprenticeship programs to learn basic skill sets. In eight to 12 weeks, they could be equipped with the skills required to help frame a house or drive a bull dozer. Making these sorts of training programs available to more workers would make a difference.

The same goes for the 100,000 tech workers who’ve been laid off in the past six months.

Innovative training provides the opportunity for workers to recalibrate their skills in fairly short order and move into many well-paying labour opportunities in the auto sector.

That includes Canada’s first electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor, where the push is on to attract workers to high-level EV-making jobs.

This is why the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, a coalition of 37 employer industry associations, representing more than 100,000 skilled tradespeople, is urging the province to bolster the Skills Development Fund. This will allow even more employers to provide flexible, innovative training programs that can be tailored to fill in-demand jobs, quickly and efficiently, right across the province.

Running counter to these efforts is the constant push by certain labour groups to expand compulsory trades, which would make it even harder to address skill and labour gaps.

Adding more cost, complexity and regimentation to skills training, without any evidence-based rationale, is an approach that is out of sync with today’s labour demands.

As Ontario works to find solutions to a sustained labour shortage, it’s clear that fewer barriers, not more, is the key to energizing our economy and getting more people working at construction sites and manufacturing plants this year, not several years from now.

The Ontario government deserves recognition for making it a mission to promote and advance skilled trades careers. While it has made significant investments in skills training, greater investments are critical given projections that roughly one in five jobs within the next two years will be in the skilled trades.

Equipping workers with the skills needed right now is the way to get more homes, highways and cleaner vehicles built, and more high school graduates, jobseekers and underrepresented groups into careers that are valued more than ever in the skilled trades.

Steven Crombie is chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed comments and column ideas to

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