Once an apprentice has completed their 9,000 hours of supervised learning, they’re ready to take the biggest step of their career.
Passing the Red Seal exam gives them the right to practice their trade anywhere in Canada, ensuring that they have a viable career for life. If construction work dries up at home, they can travel to where there’s more demand. Employers can rest assured that electricians from outside the province know how to do electrical work correctly, because the standards are the same across the country.
But before an apprentice can become a Red Seal journeyperson, they have to write the exam.
It’s a nerve-wracking experience. “Imagine doing 5 years of university, and getting your degree is all riding on one exam at the end,” says IBEW Local 804 Training Director Dave Graham.
Peter Caesar, a trainer with Local 804, agrees saying, “I was nervous when I was writing for the Red Seal, and it was such a huge weight off my back once I saw that I passed! There are some apprentices who spend several years as Red Seal candidates.”
According to the Red Seal website, only 59% of exams written earned a passing grade in 2014. Because of the overall high failure rate for first time exams, in the last five years the Province of Ontario has decreed that all apprentices, both union and non-union, stay at college for an extra week at the end of their fifth term course.
IBEW apprentices have an additional edge, however: they can get extra training and mentoring from expert trainers at their local’s training facility.
Bill Dodge, Training Director for Local 115 in Kingston, helps his apprentices face the challenge head-on. “A big part of my mandate is to prep apprentices to write the exam,” he says. “The goal is ‘one and done’, or to pass the first time they write.”
Dodge explains that preparation involves not only extra coursework, but practice exams. “We introduce them to some similar types of questions in the same format as the certificate of qualification exam, to get them used to the timing factor. Sitting in one place and writing for four hours is not a regular occurrence for our apprentices.”
Dave Graham elaborates on the coursework his local offers. “We’ve got a 12-session electrical code course as a fifth term. But as third term apprentices they go to school. We support them all the way and let them know what to expect. From the third term on, if they are having any issues we pair them with a mentor.”
Shawn Belanger, Training Director with Local 402, comments on how his local helps apprentices. “We have a certificate of qualification preparation session for members who have had difficulty passing their licensing exam. We identify where they had a lack of exposure to such things as motors and control, as well as power distribution and the theory behind it. We addressed those topics, while using the CSA app and exploring Appendix B of the code book more deeply. As a result, we have had a member recently pass his exam and is now licensed!”
Words of Advice
What words of advice do our training directors have for apprentices preparing to write the exam?
“Study, study, study!” says Caesar. “Study leading up to the exam, then take a breath and stay calm. If there are any questions you don’t get, move on and come back to them later.”
Bill Dodge says, “As soon as you have your hours and your last course is done, write it as soon as you can while it’s fresh.”
Graham agrees that one of the biggest problems for apprentices writing the exam is stress. “Relax,” he says. “Review the code book. Get a good night’s sleep. Read the questions.”
It all adds up to a recipe for success. For those who pass, it’s the thrill of a lifetime.
“Once they do achieve their Red Seal, they are so proud!” says Caesar. “They take a screenshot of their new journeyperson status and send it to everyone they’ve ever worked with, everyone they know!”