Leadership Matters
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By Phil Wilson, CHRP, SHRP

There’s a paradox in the Ontario economy: youth unemployment is sitting at 17 per cent, yet the province is facing a skilled trades shortage that’s costing Ontario $24 billion annually.


Young people are sitting idle while high-paying jobs as electricians, millwrights and mechanics go unfilled. And as a wave of baby boomers begin to retire out of the trades, more Ontario companies will be scrambling to fill skilled trades positions.

This spring, the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) released a report containing a series of recommendations to remedy this situation. The report, Apprenticeship Reform: Ontario's future depends on it, calls on Ontario’s new College of Trades to make changes to its apprenticeships regime, including modernizing the certified tradespeople-to-student ratio required to train apprentices, and ensuring fair and transparent classification of compulsory trades.

To restore Ontario's prosperity, the government must invigorate the trades to both fulfil the talent needs of business and to create high-paying jobs for young people. HRPA produced the report to prompt discussion among government, business, educational institutes and other stakeholders on how they can partner to produce apprentices and apprenticeship programs that meet the province's skills needs.

The report’s key recommendations include modernizing Ontario's journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio (the numbers of certified tradespersons required to train an apprentice). Compared to other provinces, Ontario's current ratio is restrictive and unjustifiable – and risks losing potential apprentices to provinces with more favourable ratios. The report recommends government review the current ratio to get the province in synch with other jurisdictions.

The report also calls for fair and transparent classification of compulsory trades. While some trades like electrician, plumber or auto mechanic are already compulsory and require certification of tradespeople, the College's Review Panel is charged with classifying other trades and deciding whether they need to become compulsory (with added fees and training demands for workers). HRPA recommends ensuring fairness and transparency during this process, with the rationale for every decision to extend the range of compulsory trades clearly outlined and monitored for consistency.

And most importantly, the report says government must do more to promote the skilled trades as viable and lucrative careers to young people, including: raising awareness of future prospects in the trades, changing perceptions of skilled trades, increasing the flexibility of paths to skilled trade jobs and increasing apprenticeship completion rates (which now sit at about 50 per cent).

Looking to Europe: Learning from Germany’s dual vocational training system
Ontario can look to Germany and its innovative dual vocational training system to see how government, business and schools partner to produce apprentices and apprenticeship programs that meet the country’s skills needs.

The system covers 348 skilled trades across all economic sectors and sets out formal rules governing mandatory skills for each trade; requirements for the apprentice, the host business and partner vocational school; and specific training/certification for each occupation. The dual system typically sees the apprentice undergo a three-year program featuring three or four days per week of on-the-job training and another one or two days of in-class education at school.

This dual system serves all parties well – it validates and professionalizes each occupation; apprentices get experience and paid training; and businesses can draw from a ready pool of talent, plus get an opportunity to “try out” workers to see how they fit in the organization’s culture.

Phil Wilson, CHRP, SHRP is chair of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

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