But if there was a simple, straightforward policy solution, it would have been implemented by now .
By Sarah Watts-Rynard : When it comes to discussing whether Canada is developing enough skilled tradespeople, the perspectives are more diverse than one might imagine. In conversations across the country, I hear that employers aren’t doing their part by hiring apprentices, labour agreements are prohibitive, time off the jobsite for technical training is inconvenient, youth are uninterested and journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios are unreasonable.
In reality, these reasons join many others in contributing to our short supply of tradespeople.
I am lucky to have opportunities to talk to tradespeople, apprentices and apprenticeship champions across the country. People who manage, train, support and mentor apprentices are a dedicated and passionate group, generally willing to discuss challenges frankly and always interested in hearing how others are addressing similar issues. One of the things I’ve learned from these discussions is that barriers to apprenticeship training are complex and multi-layered. If there was a simple, straightforward policy solution, it would have been implemented.
Among the challenges:
Perceptions of career influencers: While a recent survey among young people indicated they are open to considering a career in the trades, they reported that parents, teachers and friends have a poor image of trades and don’t encourage them to pursue this pathway.
Lack of opportunity or difficulty finding it: One of the biggest complaints we hear from prospective apprentices is that employers aren’t interested in hiring young people without experience. Employers often say they are willing to hire an apprentice, but are rarely asked.
Unwelcoming workplaces/training environments: Women, indigenous peoples and others underrepresented in the trades still report feeling unwelcome and marginalized. Until we’re ready to examine the extent to which this is problem in each workplace and classroom, the pool of prospective employees will remain a shallow one.
Cost of apprenticeship: While employers who train apprentices consider it a good investment, many others believe the costs outweigh the benefits. In fact, research shows an average return of $1.47 for every dollar spent, benefits underlined by tax credits, wage subsidies and a host of other supports.
Apprenticeship completion: Though apprenticeship registrations have increased over the last decade, only about 50 per cent achieve their certificate of qualification. To some extent, this reflects people deciding the path isn’t a good fit, something we also see with university and college students. Apprentices, however, also face the unique requirement to find and maintain employment. When contracts come to an end or the economy turns, apprentice training can quickly be derailed.
Canada has 13 apprenticeship systems: When an apprentice loses their job in one part of the country, it can be difficult to transfer employment hours and levels of training to a region experiencing high demand. Current efforts to harmonize apprenticeship training across the country are a huge step in the right direction, maximizing opportunity for Canadian apprentices who want to continue to work in Canada.
Essential Skills: Here’s where it comes back to haunt students who, because they don’t excel in academic classrooms, are encouraged to pursue the trades. Many trades require advanced math, science, digital and problem-solving skills. K-12 education systems must do more to engage hands-on learners in the practical aspects of these subjects to ensure they have a foundation for success.
The reality is that there are excellent initiatives underway across the country to address these barriers and many others. Employers, labour groups, educators and equity organizations are creating new and innovative solutions. These groups are open and ready to share those solutions with others, though one of Canada’s quirks is reinventing programs by sector and region. Funding often stops at provincial borders or is stopped altogether when philosophies or governments change.
We aren’t lacking for good ideas and there’s no evidence another country’s system has the solutions. Rather, as skills shortages become more intense, there is a real opportunity to apply best practices and overcome barriers on a more consistent, national basis. What’s called for is a made-in-Canada solution to barriers that are uniquely ours.
Sarah Watts-Rynard is the Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, a non-profit organization that connects Canada’s apprenticeship community.
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