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Apprenticeship Reform Consultations Underway

June 16, 2017
electrical apprentice getting training

Update August 2017: You can read our recommendations to the MAESD here.
The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development has launched two half-day consultation sessions about reforming the apprenticeship system. The first meeting was held on the morning of June 15, 2017, with almost 300 people in attendance. The next will be on July 25th, 2017.

Attendees represented unions (both construction and industrial), employers, employment adjustment agencies (who pair employers with apprenticeship applicants), OCOT, and the Ministry of Labour, amongst others.
Speakers commented on topics like:

  • What’s working with the current system.
  • What’s not working.
  • How to get apprenticeship completion ratios up.
  • How to attract young people to skilled trades as their first career choice.

John Grimshaw, IBEW Executive Secretary Treasurer, attended the initial meeting and will be attending the second. “We are very glad we are being consulted, and remain cautiously optimistic that this exercise is about strengthening the apprenticeship system in Ontario, not weakening it,” he commented.

Why do Some Stakeholders Feel the Apprenticeship System Needs to Be Reformed?

In the last few years there have been dozens of articles forecasting an increased need for electricians and other skilled trades, especially as the Baby Boom generation retires. This article cites a shortfall of about a million tradespeople in the next decade or two.
There are several perspectives about whether or not the system needs to be reformed:

  • IBEW CCO, as the organization with one of the best apprenticeship completion ratios, feels that our system should be fully adopted outside of the union sphere. While some non-union workplaces follow the proper apprenticeship procedure, many abuse it, as you’ll read below.
  • As reported in our previous article on apprenticeship consultations, Colleges Ontario wants to change the process so that all of the classroom learning comes first. The current system begins with hands-on learning, with classroom sessions scheduled in at the apprentice progresses.
    While the schooling-first system will create a great financial windfall for the colleges, the lack of hands-on experience at the right time can result in a low transition rate into actual apprenticeships. Some students are great with theory, only to find they don’t like the physical requirements of the job (or as some put it, don’t like to “get their hands dirty”).

People with these and other perspectives were represented at the meeting.

Advantages of the IBEW System

electrician working
The IBEW training system creates some of the best electrical journeypersons in the world, and we feel that the non-union sector can learn a lot from our success. Most of our locals report that about 90% of our apprentices complete their training and earn their journeyperson card.

The Ontario Construction Secretariat has slightly lower numbers for unionized apprenticeship completions across all of the skilled trades (75%), but acknowledges that apprentices that sign up with a union had 30% higher completion rates than those who did not (email required for report download).
So, what are the unions doing right?

  1. We don’t treat apprentices as cheap disposable labour.
    In the nonunion sector, apprentices are often the first to be let go when work is scarce. When times are good, they can be held back from scheduled classroom sessions if the employers get “too busy”. We’ve heard of cases where apprentices go for 6 to 9 years without getting their coursework in, and therefore cannot graduate to journeyperson pay rates. It’s no wonder they become frustrated and leave the trade.
  2. We take smart candidates with good grades in high school math, physics, and English.
    You need an excellent understanding of math and physics to know how electricity works and to solve system requirements correctly. Good English grades are a sign that the candidate can communicate effectively on the job, especially if they rise to a management role.
  3. We give them something to work for and we support them in their career.
    We pay apprentices reasonable rates, and keep them on track with their coursework so they can start earning journeyperson rates in a timely manner. We provide health, retirement, and other benefits. We give them a second family to belong to, and ongoing mentorship and advanced training.

In a nutshell, we give our apprentices a feeling of pride in everything they do as a skilled trade. You can read more advantages of hands-on learning here.

Attracting Young People to the Skilled Trades

“If Ontario wants more young people to make a skilled trade their first career choice, make it attractive to them,” commented John Grimshaw. “You have to raise the standards, not lower them. People see higher standards as a sign of value.”

Proper enforcement of the new OCOT Compliance Policy will also be essential,” says Grimshaw. “If unscrupulous employers who abuse apprentices are caught and fined, gradually the culture will change and people will ensure proper safety, training, and career progress for apprentices.”

What’s Next

The second consultation session will be held on July 25, 2017. There will also be additional consultation meetings around the province.

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