The Ontario government’s plan to bolster the skilled trades by introducing a new pathway to a high school diploma for students who have entered apprenticeships after their Grade 10 year has been criticized by advocacy group People for Education as potentially leading to dead-end careers for those who don’t complete their apprenticeships.
A People for Education report, called Risky Business: Choosing Between School and Apprenticeships May Have Unintended Consequences, was itself slammed by some construction stakeholders who suggested the advocates don’t understand the growth that takes place during the apprenticeship cycle.
Others said the People for Education report raised important issues and suggested not enough details about the government proposal are known.
They believe government consultations planned for the fall will be a welcome opportunity to discuss the ramifications of students leaving high school as young as 16 to pursue the skilled trades.
The report was released June 28.
“If you look at the rates of apprenticeship completion, they’re not great. There’s actually very, very low,” said Robin Liu Hopson, director of policy and research for People for Education. “So you’re just kind of accelerating them into this program that doesn’t have very great completion rates.”
The government made the announcement March 8 and plans to allow students in Grade 11 to transition to a full-time skilled trades apprenticeship program and upon receiving their Certificate of Apprenticeship (C of A), they can apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
The government said it will begin consultations in fall 2023 with multiple stakeholders about “ways to make it even easier for young people to enter a career in the trades. This includes the potential of lowering entry requirements for some of the 106 skilled trades that currently require a Grade 12-level education.”
The plan “appears to prioritize filling labour shortages in the short term over the long-term benefits of educational attainment,” stated the People for Education report.
The report cited data from Statistics Canada that indicated completion rates of apprenticeship programs are typically low in Canada, with only 36 per cent obtaining their certificate.
“This new proposal by the government may leave a higher number of young people at a dead end with no apprenticeship certificate, high school diploma or a way to get back into formal education,” the report charged.
Giovanni Cautillo, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association, reiterated his support for the government’s plan.
“The MOL has recognized there is more than one avenue to obtain knowledge and the construction industry applauds their efforts at thinking beyond the traditional,” said Cautillo.
He added if People for Education believes students will miss out on the “knowledge, skills and competencies…fostered through broader learning opportunities and engagement in the school community,” as its report stated, “then not a one of them has ever set foot on a construction site.
“People in construction are continually learning and happy to impart their knowledge onto apprentices that are viewed as vital and welcomed onsite.”
Stephen Crombie, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, noted the Ontario government is not “reinventing the wheel,” citing successes in the eastern United States and Germany.
“This program is creating a conduit for young people to enter the trades earlier, but of course it has to be done in a way that that really does have the best interest of students at the forefront,” he said.
Skills Ontario CEO Ian Howcroft also cited the European model. Currently the average age of an apprentice in Canada is 28, he noted.
“People entering the apprenticeship at an earlier age increases the likelihood they will complete the apprenticeship before taking on other commitments,” he said.
Crombie, LIUNA director of marketing Victoria Mancinelli, and Wade Richardson, chair of the Ontario Council for Technology Education, all said they wanted to see more details.
Richardson, who administers the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) for the Halton District School Board, noted the proposed program could benefit some Grade 10 students who would languish during two extra years in a high school classroom, but for others it might encourage them to leave school early with no certainty of a good long-term career outcome.
“The devil is in the details when it comes out,” said Richardson. “For some students it will be good. But for the majority of students, they should not be doing this, leaving high school before they get their diploma. There’s a lot of concerns whether the students would actually get their high school diploma once they leave after Grade 10.”
Among the recommendations contained in the People for Education report, the province was urged to strengthen existing programs such as OYAP, the Specialist High Skills Major program, co-operative education and dual-credit opportunities.
Why is the government “introducing a new, potentially standalone strategy disconnected from schools?” the report asked.
The Carpenters’ Regional Council issued a statement praising OYAP and other pathways, saying it supports students obtaining a well-rounded high school education with early exposure to the skilled trades, while acknowledging “this new program to help more students enter the skilled trades faster.”
Stephen Hamilton, Ontario director of public affairs with the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said he does not believe the government intends to put Grade 11 students “on the road for two years.”
Apprenticeships are confusing pathways, he said, and more supports are called for.
“There needs to be kind of a concierge attitude towards ensuring students, if they do choose this path, and that would be the minority of students certainly, that there are supports for them along the way,” said Hamilton.
Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, also remarked on the merits of enhanced transitional programs for the young workers who may not have the maturity to enter directly into an apprenticeship program. He said the government’s plan is “directionally sound.”
In an email, a Ministry of Labour spokesperson stated, “The ministry welcomes all viewpoints and constructive discussion. In the coming months, we will be consulting extensively with parents, students, employers, unions, education stakeholders and others about ways to make it even easier for young people to enter rewarding careers in the trades.”
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