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595 Bay Street, Suite 1202
Toronto, ON M5G 2C2

Em: info@ontarioconstructionconsortium.org
Ph:
647-385-8474

Apprenticeship and Skills Training: Ontario at the Crossroads

By Phil Gillies Ontario Construction Consortium

In the Ontario Government’s 2019 Budget is an item that, if implemented, could have serious negative consequences for the training and accreditation of skilled tradespeople in the construction industry. This is Schedule 40 of Bill 100, the budget implementation legislation.
Schedule 40 proposes moving the province away from our existing apprenticeship system to a new model made up of ‘portable skill sets’. By adopting the skill set model already tried and partially discarded in British Columbia, Ontario risks sliding into negative training outcomes. Modularized training in narrow subfields will result in a lower skilled construction workforce. It could also lead to a deterioration of safety on jobsites.
The move to a skill set based system would have serious consequences for Ontario.
Apprenticeship today – Across the Country and in Ontario
In Ontario an apprentice works under the mentorship of a certified journeyperson. A typical apprenticeship takes approximately four years to complete. Ten to twenty per cent of the program is taught in a classroom setting. The program leading to certification is time-based to ensure that an apprentice has had enough time and exposure to qualified journeypersons to learn the skills and become proficient in their trade. This proficiency is then recognized through certification. The public assumes a level of expertise exists when contracting licensed professionals. The public trust must not be shaken by diluting the training regimen. The definition of a certified journeyman should not be shaken by ill-advised government policy decisions.
The Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program sets common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada. It is a partnership between the federal government and the provinces and territories. In July of 2019 the program achieved a national consensus on the harmonization of 32 trades – a significant achievement that will allow national labour mobility in the construction industry.
In Ontario there are more than 150 trades in four sectors: construction, motive power, industrial and service. Twenty-three of these are compulsory trades and 133 are voluntary trades. Fifty-two of the trades in Ontario are Red Seal Trades.
The overall trend in the province has seen an increase in annual registrations – from 17,100 in 2002-03 to 24,800 in 2016-17. Approximately 9,800 Certificates of Apprenticeship are issued annually. (2) In 2017 there were 68,510 apprentices in the province. This number increased in 2018 by 1,210. This success may be attributed, at least in parts, to increased outreach efforts undertaken by the Ontario College of Trades in partnership with Skills Ontario. Also, in 2017 there were 25,000 active sponsors. There are over 70 TDAs (Training Delivery Agents) of which 46 are union or employer sponsored training centres. Twenty-four more training centres are operated by colleges.
In 2016-17 the Ontario Government invested over $160.6 million in apprenticeship programs. Approximately $128.8 million was also provided to employers through the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit (ATTC). The province’s construction unions together with their partner employers also invest more than $40 million annually of their own money. (1)
The success of Ontario’s apprenticeship system in the construction sector is the strength of the partnership among the unionized construction industry: employers, trade unions, post-secondary institutions and the provincial government. The relationship between the construction unions and their industry partners is crucial – they have long demonstrated a recognition of the need to invest in their future labour needs.
The non-unionized sector needs to play a role here too, rather than just piggybacking on the programs and investments of the unionized sector.
Bill 100 – Schedule 40
As part of its 2019 Budget, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 100 – legislation named Protecting What Matters Most. Under Schedule 40 of the Bill, the Ford Government proposes to change the apprenticeship system to one where apprentices could be trained to perform smaller subsets of skills within big disciplines. So instead of needing to qualify for a four-year apprenticeship in carpentry, for example, the apprenticeship categories would be narrower in scope and may only take a two-year program to complete. The Ontario Construction Consortium has significant concerns about this move to portable skill sets – not the least of which is the fact that British Columbia implemented and is now walking away from this system, which failed badly in that province. This concern and others are detailed below.
There are some aspects of the government’s initiatives associated with Bill 100 that are positive and will certainly have OCC support:
The push by the Minister of Education to inform secondary school students about the viability of a career path in the skilled trades. We support the Minister in this – it should have been done years ago. We believe young students should be encouraged to look at the opportunities that come with working in the trades – and they should be alerted that this is an area where Ontario has a shortage of trained employees, and that a skilled journey person can make a good living in their chosen field.
The government indicates it wants to streamline the application process for people starting their journey to apprenticeship. The current system (determine qualifications, find an employer or sponsor, apply through Employment Ontario after securing a sponsor, sign a training agreement created by the Ministry, register the training) is tricky to navigate for a young person coming out of high school. The devil is in the details, but a simplified process could be a good thing.
OCC does have serious concerns about the push for a skill set system, however.
The Portable Skill Sets Option in Ontario
The apprenticeship system in Ontario dates back formally to 1928, and informally back into the 1800s. People who complete their apprenticeships successfully, whether in a compulsory or voluntary trade, should take pride in their accomplishment. Both compulsory and voluntary trades offer extensive and thorough apprenticeship programs requiring up to four years and thousands of hours to complete.
Germany offers an example of a place where apprenticeships are held in high regard, on par with a university or college education. Apprenticeship is seen as leading to a respectable profession.
We believe the portable skill set system, if implemented, would erode this tradition of professional training. Excellence would be eroded. To strip away this tradition of professional training and excellence would be telling the journeypersons who have worked hard to achieve their success that their accomplishments are meaningless.
There are also economic factors in play here – portable skill sets would be incompatible with the systems in place in other provinces, reducing job mobility and adaptability to changing market conditions.
How did the Ford Government land on the skill set option? It would appear that the government’s logic in bringing forward these changes is along these lines:
We have a shortage of skilled tradespeople which is making it difficult to build everything we need built. To implement our Open for Business thrust, we need to get things built faster. Why is there a shortage of tradespeople? Because the process to complete an apprenticeship is too long and difficult – so young people don’t want to take on the programs. So, by making it quicker and easier to get these people trained and out to the workforce, we will move to these 2-year skill sets. This will speed more people to the jobsites more quickly and solve the tradespeople shortage.
In fact, would-be trainees from across the country will see how attractive this option is, and flood into Ontario to sign up.
There are considerable problems with this logic, however. The first, and most obvious, is that under this system you will be putting a lot of young people out onto jobsites with a lot less training and fewer skills. And they will only be trained to work on a narrowly defined part of the project.
Suppose you are a contractor building a low-rise strip mall. Under the carpentry discipline you will need:
Form workers (to build the forms for the concrete foundation)
Framers
Roofers
Cladders
and perhaps, scaffolding specialists.
A fully trained carpentry journeyman should be able to perform all these tasks. So, on many jobs, you may be able to bring in one crew of carpenters to work on the whole project beginning to end.
Overall, under our existing system we train people who can do everything within a range in a discipline. And when you call the hiring hall you get a worker or workers who can perform the range of tasks you require. This situation would change under the skill set system – and not for the better.
And, of course, tradespeople trained only in a portable skill set would not meet the Interprovincial Standards set by the Red Seal Program.
A recent report by the Ontario Pipe Trades Council pointed out that:
Pipe Trades professionals do not perform according to a set of independent and discrete skill sets. Rather they have the ability to perform tasks using acquired knowledge and abilities skillfully, informed by full theoretical understanding of technical systems. This balance of skill, knowledge and ability is designed to mitigate any immediate or future potential hazards or failures, while ensuring operational success and value.
Portable skill sets can lead to partially trained workers engaging unsafely and ineffectively with technical systems that fall within the range of knowledge of fully skilled and equipped tradespeople. Our existing apprenticeship system imparts the full scope of skills, knowledge and ability to meet or exceed Red Seal standards. Fragmenting the training regimen will reduce the time apprentices need to spend with fully trained journey persons. Our young trainees need this time. As seen in British Columbia, the proposed system would spawn a race to the bottom in terms of price, quality of work, and safety standards. It could also lead to an increase in use of the underground economy, which would cost governments billions of dollars in lost tax revenue each year and create an uneven playing field and an unfair competitive market for legitimate construction contractors.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voiced concerns about what BC did, saying …it watered down the value of its qualification certificates in a misguided attempt to increase participation in its apprenticeship systems.
The Ford government says proudly that under its auspices Ontario is once again ‘open for business’. We would contend that labour mobility is vital for an economy to be truly open for business. And Ontario moving into portable skill sets will reduce the ability of its construction trainees to be accredited Red Seal. And this, in turn, will impede labour mobility.
Toronto-centric
If the workforce is made up of people trained only in portable skill sets, however, you may have to bring in different crews of workers – some who only do framing, others who are only trained in cladding…..and another crew of roofers…….and so on. And, depending on the community, these various crews with narrow specializations may not be readily available.
Ironically, the portable skill set system would probably have the best chance of success in the Greater Toronto Area. If you’re building a strip mall in Toronto, there is a large pool of trained people and distances are short to move crews in and out. But if you’re building your strip mall in Sudbury or Kingston – you’ve got a big problem on your hands. You are better served by having fully trained crews with a multiplicity of skills. How often do you hear the Ford government accused of catering to the big city – bringing in a policy that will benefit the GTA but penalize small town and rural Ontario?
Labour Relations
The introduction of skill sets to the construction trades would complicate labour relations in the unionized sector. Bargaining for all the groups of apprentices and tradespeople in the multiple subtrades would become virtually unmanageable.
As things stand now, wage rates have to be bargained and set for people within a trade in dozens of geographic areas. Within these areas you then have to agree to rates for journeymen and also for each year of apprentices – first, second, third and fourth term. Then you must determine the foreman differential. Remember – this is being done for each trade – carpenters, painters, electricians and so on.
With the addition to the mix of skill sets, you would now add a further and complex layer of variables. Within the carpentry trade for example, you would need to set wage rates for apprentices doing forming – for each year, in each local. And the same for framing, roofing, cladding……… and so on.
If conducting bargaining successfully was not already hard enough, it would become a virtual jigsaw puzzle under the Bill 100 provisions.
This splintering of the bargaining system could also be bad for the Province from an economic standpoint as more disputes would likely be brought before the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which is funded by the taxpayers, for settlement.
The British Columbia Experience
British Columbia has already gone down the road of implementing skill sets and is now pulling back from this failed experiment. The B.C. implementation of skill sets in 2003 led to splintered trades and declining registrations. The system was not producing apprentices that were adequately prepared for the rigours of the job site. Eventually 11 of the 28 new programs were eliminated.
The move to the skill set model diluted the skills of the workforce, and pushed B.C. out of alignment with the national Red Seal Program – the ability of the skill set cadre to work in other provinces was seriously impaired.
These trainees learned less and were not prepared for the full range of skills that could be utilized on the jobsite. Yes, the system could, theoretically, rush more young people onto the jobsite in less time, but they would not be as knowledgeable or well prepared. They would also not be able to adapt as readily to changing market forces. While a traditional apprentice was trained to do A, B, C and D – the portable skill set trainees may only know A. or B. Or B with some C. What happens when a shift in the construction market suddenly demands workers who can do B, C and some D? The person with the requisite skills may not available. And the trainee may be left high and dry – unable to meet the new demands.
So, what happened in B.C.? At first the changes saw some success – registration rates for apprenticeship programs saw a considerable increase after the changes took effect in 2003. Enrollments went from 6,000 in 2002 to over 16,000 by 2013. But completion rates did not match this growth rate. There were also complaints that new registration data was inflated because apprentices were being counted twice and three times as they progressed through the training modules.
And, predictably, Red Seal Certifications in B.C. declined – while Red Seal Certifications in Ontario were exceeding the national average. Overall, since year 2000 Ontario has seen a much higher rate of certifications than B.C., which has lagged behind the national average.
The British Columbia experiment also had a negative impact on health and safety. The injury rate for construction workers in B.C. is much higher than in Ontario. It certainly is dropping somewhat, but at a slower rate than the rest of Canada.
Notably, data indicates the injury rate for B.C. tradespeople went up after 2004 – which coincides with the introduction of portable skill sets. The BC Chamber of Commerce expressed concern about this trend, noting that the injury rate for BC tradespeople is nearly four times that of their counterparts in Ontario.
Opportunity – Consultation with Industry and Labour
The government made an announcement in September of 2019 which we regard as positive.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced that he is creating a Construction Advisory Panel. This Panel will provide input to the Minister on issues of concern to the construction sector – including employment law, workplace health and safety and other issues. Ontario has not had such a panel since one was instituted by Labour Minister Bette Stephenson in the Bill Davis government. The Consortium is pleased with this move by Minister McNaughton and will provide input to the Panel on an ongoing basis.
Moving Training and Apprenticeship to Labour
Another major development in October/19 was the transfer of responsibility for skills and apprenticeship from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to the Ministry of Labour. Minister Monte McNaughton now becomes the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. Minister McNaughton has extensive knowledge of this field and longstanding relationships with the construction sector. The Ontario Construction Consortium has publicly endorsed this structural change, our comments on this were published in the Daily Commercial News.
The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) issued a statement Oct 22 that said shifting the portfolio from the former Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will help strengthen the province’s training system.
“Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has a thorough understanding of the importance of the skilled trades to our Province’s economy”, said Phil Gillies, executive director of OCC in a release. “He has been to the construction sites and to many of the union and contractor-sponsored training centres. He knows the system and has strong relationships with the players.”
“When the apprentices are on the job sites, and once they graduate to become journeyman status, they will be dealing with the Ministry of Labour in most important aspects of their jobs – employment standards, health and safety and labour relations”, said Gillies. “it makes perfect sense in that their journey from registration all the way to being job ready should also fall under Labour”.
Also, in January 2020 Minister McNaughton launched a video advertising campaign aimed at presenting the skilled trades to young people as a viable career option. The videos, running online and in movie theaters, are excellent. This program has the full support of the Ontario Construction Consortium.
The Best Path Forward – In Conclusion
The Ontario Construction Consortium supports the Ontario Government in its new initiatives aimed at encouraging high school students to consider the skilled trades as a viable career choice. We should strive to catch up to world leaders like Germany. As far back as 2006 reports like that of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s “Retooling for a Prosperous Ontario” were citing the success of the German program.
The Province is investing over $18 million in pre-apprenticeship programs that help prepare people for work in the skilled trades. The government also puts over $12 million into the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, which sees grade 11 and 12 students gaining experience in the skilled trades will getting credits for their school studies. These programs are very good, and our only criticism would be they should be expanded and embrace many more students. The percentage of Ontario high school graduates that go into an apprenticeship program is very low compared to most European countries.
About one in five new jobs in Ontario over the next five years is expected to be in trades-related occupations. But skilled tradespeople are retiring faster than new entrants can replace them. We need a robust apprenticeship sector capable of filling this shortfall. Our province is certainly ‘Open For Business’ but major construction projects are often held up because of the availability of the skilled trades needed to build.
Our young people who go into the skilled trades can fare very well. Men with apprenticeship certificates, for example, have a median annual earnings 7% more than men with a college diploma and 31% more than men with a high school diploma.
Government, industry, labour and other stakeholders should all step up to strengthen and grow Ontario’s apprenticeship system – a system that must produce properly trained, multi-skilled journeypersons. And our skilled tradespeople must meet national Red Seal standards so they can align with their counterparts across the Canada, and so they can work anywhere in the country.
By adopting the failed skill set model already embraced and then abandoned in BC, Ontario risks sliding into negative training outcomes. Modularized training in narrow subfields will result in a lower skilled construction workforce. It could also lead to a deterioration of safety on jobsites. The move to a skill set based system would have serious consequences for Ontario.
We urge the provincial government not to abandon decades of professional excellence, well-established by industry as necessary to meet the needs of the marketplace, in favour of expediency and the agenda of special interests who would like to tilt the playing field in favour of quick, cheap training. Ontario should continue to invest in a full apprenticeship system in which trainees, and indeed all of us, can take pride.
Footnotes
A Stronger Apprenticeship System for Ontario – Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development document – 2018
A Stronger Apprenticeship System for Ontario – Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development document – 2018
Serving the People of Ontario – A Strong System for the Trades – Ontario Pipe Trades Council Policy Brief – September 2019
e.g. – Carpenters Union Wage and Related Payments – Provincial Collective Agreement – May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017 – page 141
e.g. – Carpenters Union Wage and Related Payments – Provincial Collective Agreement – May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017 – page 141
BC Federation of Labour – BC`s (Not So) Great Apprenticeship Training Experiment – November 2017
BC Federation of Labour – BC`s (Not So) Great Apprenticeship Training Experiment – November 2017
BC Chamber of Commerce – Improving Apprenticeship Completion Rates – 2018
BC Chamber of Commerce – Improving Apprenticeship Completion Rates – 2018
Ontario Government Release – Ontario Establishes Construction Advisory Panel – September 26, 2019
Ontario Government Release – Ontario Establishes Construction Advisory Panel – September 26, 2019
Ontario Construction Consortium release – OCC Supports Moving Training and Apprenticeship Responsibility to Ministry of Labour – October 22, 2019
Centre for Study of Living Standards – The Apprenticeship System in Canada: Trends and Issues – Report 2004-050
Statistics Canada – Does Education Pay – A Comparison of Earnings by Level of Education in Canada and Its Provinces and Territories – November 29, 2017