24 May, 2023 — Simone, a certified steamfitter journeyperson, discovered her passion for trades while taking shop classes at Central Technical High School in Toronto. Although she originally intended to pursue a career in plumbing, she was offered a steamfitter apprenticeship, and she is grateful that she accepted the opportunity.
Apprenticeships have long been considered a viable pathway to skilled jobs in Canada. However, the system has faced significant challenges, including insufficient hours, inflexible journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios, lack of interest, program fragmentation and funding.
Recognizing the urgent need for reform, various provinces and Canada’s federal government have initiated ongoing and upcoming apprenticeship reforms aimed at increasing the participation rate and improving the overall quality of apprenticeship programs.
Simone presently works at the Petro Canada Lubricant Centre as a steamfitter. She says the most enjoyable aspect of her trade is that she gets to construct things and work with her hands.
Challenges in the apprenticeship system
While Simone is one of the many benefactors of the apprenticeship program, the road is a tough one to take. One of the main challenges of the apprenticeship system is insufficient hours. Many apprentices struggle to accumulate the required hours due to a lack of job opportunities or limited work hours provided by their employers.
In addition, the inflexible journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios limit the number of apprentices that can be trained at any given time, leading to delays in completing the program and obtaining certification. Furthermore, the apprenticeship system faces a lack of interest and funding, with many young people opting for post-secondary education instead.
Labour predictions in skilled trades
Labour predictions show that Canada is facing a significant shortage of skilled workers in the trades, with over 300,000 skilled workers expected to retire by 2028. According to BuildForce Canada, the construction industry alone is expected to require over 300,000 new workers by 2028 to replace retiring workers and meet growing demand. In addition, the manufacturing, transportation, and natural resources sectors are also facing labour shortages.
Experience in Ontario
Various provinces in Canada have initiated apprenticeship reforms to address the challenges and labour shortages. For example, in Ontario, the government has launched an initiative to modernize the apprenticeship system and improve the quality of training programs. This includes streamlining the system to make it more accessible, increasing funding for apprenticeships, and reducing journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios to enable more apprentices to be trained at any given time.
Additionally, the government has launched a campaign to encourage more young people to consider apprenticeships as a viable career option by allowing students in grade 11 to transition to a full-time, skilled trades apprenticeship program. Upon receiving their Certificate of Apprenticeship, these young workers can apply for their Ontario Secondary School Diploma as mature students. At a time when the province continues to face historic labour shortages, this change means that more students will be able to enter the trades faster than ever before to help build Ontario.
The government will also begin consultations in 2023 with employers, unions, education stakeholders, and others 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.
Best practices for apprenticeship reforms
The key to successful apprenticeship reforms is to increase the participation rate and improve the overall quality of training programs. This can be achieved by implementing flexible journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios, increasing funding for apprenticeships, streamlining the system to make it more accessible, and promoting apprenticeships as a viable career option.
Furthermore, employers must be encouraged to provide more job opportunities and training programs to apprentices, allowing them to accumulate the required hours and gain valuable on-the-job experience.
A key component to prioritize is the safety of young workers. Improving safety in the workplace will encourage more young professionals to choose the skilled trades as a long, sustainable career. As a steamfitter, Simone works with pipes of various sizes and materials, which can be a challenging and risky job if proper precautions are not taken. However, in her opinion, the effort is well worth it.
Final thoughts and the way forward
In conclusion, the apprenticeship system in Canada faces significant challenges, including insufficient training hours, inflexible journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios, lack of interest and funding. However, ongoing and upcoming apprenticeship reforms in various provinces are aimed at addressing these challenges and increasing the participation rate in apprenticeships.
Successful apprenticeship reforms can help address the growing labour shortages in the skilled trades and provide opportunities for young people to enter well-paying, stable careers. Through continued efforts to improve the apprenticeship system, Canada can build a strong and skilled workforce that contributes to a thriving economy.