Elevating apprenticeship training is key to tackling the skills shortage

Skilled tradesperson
Ontario must strengthen apprenticeship training to address the shortage of skilled tradespeople.

The Royal Bank of Canada is the latest institution to sound the alarm about the looming shortage of skilled trades people.

An RBC report released last week said 700,000 skilled trades people in Canada are expected to retire over the next seven years – and there aren’t enough people in apprenticeship programs to replace them.

Furthermore, the report says many of those who will remain in the profession have skills that are becoming outpaced by accelerating automation. The report says 25 per cent of the skilled trades workforce will need to upgrade their skills within the next five years due to digital disruption.

Our province certainly faces a significant challenge. It’s estimated Ontario faces a shortage of 100,000 skilled trades people by the end of the decade.

Clearly, as Ontario works to promote economic recovery, much of the emphasis needs to be on the skilled trades and encouraging more students to enrol in apprenticeship training.

The RBC report mentions the longstanding stigma problem: Many people continue to hold outdated ideas about the skilled trades that make it difficult to attract students.

But there are other challenges. For example, the process for getting into apprenticeship training is complicated. For students who are interested in becoming apprentices, it can often be difficult finding an employer to take them on.

There is significant work that must be done to modernize apprenticeship training. Major reforms are needed to reposition apprenticeship training as an option that’s as valued as other post-secondary options.

Colleges will play a key role in that effort. Colleges deliver 85 per cent of the in-class training to apprentices in Ontario and are the primary post-secondary source for tradespeople looking to advance in their careers.

Our colleges are recommending the provincial government implement reforms to elevate the status of apprenticeship programs and to produce more graduates. Some key measures should include:

  • Awarding post-secondary credentials to graduates of the in-class portion of apprenticeship training at colleges. This would make it easier for graduates of the programs to enrol in further post-secondary studies as they advance in their careers.
  • Allowing colleges to align the application process to be a college-trained apprentice with the process all other applicants use – a one-stop window to make it easier for students to choose their trade and get offers from a number of colleges.
  • Ensuring that apprenticeship is well funded so that colleges don’t struggle to ensure they can offer enough classes for apprentices.
  • Supporting teacher training to help guidance counsellors and teachers to advise students interested in the trades on which trade might be the best fit for them and what is involved in entering a trade.
  • Working with students and their parents at an early age to expose them to the trades and to help them understand that many trades are creative, challenging and can lead to other avenues such as starting their own business. Knowing that the trades open many doors rather than just one will help parents understand that there are long-term options for growth and development in going down that path.

There are many excellent and rewarding careers in the trades – and there is a clear demand for more people.

Working with government and employers, colleges are eager to seize this opportunity to modernize apprenticeship training and to fill the huge demand for more skilled tradespeople.

Linda Franklin

Linda Franklin is the past president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy association for Ontario’s 24 colleges.