Consult Those Who Know Best When Changing the Apprenticeship Process

apprentice electrician and teacher learning

The IBEW CCO is calling on the Ontario provincial government to consult with experienced trades people and employers before making changes to how apprenticeships work in Ontario. This will ensure that the process is truly made better in the upcoming changes, and that the essential benefits of the hands-on learning experience are not lost.

The Call for Change

apprentice electrician on worksiteRecently, Colleges Ontario arranged for a paid advertorial in the Toronto Sun advocating that Ontario adopt a classroom-first process to replace the current apprenticeship model required to become an electrician. This is based on the recommendations of a report released earlier in 2016 by the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Strategy Expert Panel called “Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility”.

The report calls for changes to the current apprenticeship training process that would see students spending over 2 years in a classroom before they ever step foot on a work site. It also calls for streamlining of the application process, so that it’s all done through Colleges Ontario. Right now, individual employers are heavily involved by sponsoring and monitoring the apprentice from the beginning.

To some, who aren’t familiar with life in the skilled trades, this may sound fine. But it’s not clear yet if the benefits of apprenticeships will be preserved, in spite of known problems with the current apprenticeship process that IBEW CCO would love to see fixed.

“The IBEW supports any initiative that helps improve the success of apprentices and increases the importance of highly skilled electricians and other skilled trades in Ontario.” said James Barry, IBEW CCO’s Executive Chairman of Membership Development.

The Call for Consultation

James Barry also said that the IBEW CCO will be actively requesting involvement in the upcoming revisions. “We will be reaching out to the Minister of Advanced Education on Skills Development to request to be a part of the upcoming consultation given our knowledge of skilled trades and experience with training, safety, and excellence in the workplace.”

The ministry’s own report calls for consultation that has not yet fully taken place. Recommendation 3-3 of the original report states that, “The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development should be given the mandate to consult with stakeholders to develop a modernized apprenticeship system reflective of the current business climate and focused on the integration of young people into the trades. This modernization could include moving all education components of an apprenticeship to the beginning of the program and establishing a central application process for anyone wanting to enter.” (Emphasis ours.)

What an Apprenticeship Provides – That Could Be Lost

apprentice electrician and teacherThere are benefits to apprenticeships that are essential for someone going into a career with a lot of hands-on work.

  1. Try before you buy. An apprenticeship provides an accurate picture of what the job is really like before a student spends thousands of dollars in tuition fees. If the candidate hasn’t done a lot of practical work, they may find that it just isn’t for them. This means less of the student debt that currently cripples young workers in other fields.
  2. Earn while you learn. Because apprentices are getting work done for real employers, they earn money while they get training.
  3. Safe supervision while learning. A proper ratio of journeypersons to apprentices ensures that work is done correctly and safely.
  4. Training that also helps build life skills. On the work site, apprentices work with journeypersons of all ages and at all stages of life. They learn to work with different personality types and get different perspectives on what’s truly important.

These are all benefits that someone spending 2 years in a classroom with other 18 and 19-year olds just doesn’t get.

apprentice electricians on job site with journeypersons

Benefits for Employers

For employers, apprenticeships are an incredibly efficient and cost-effective way to do business. Apprentices help contractors’ companies by taking care of simpler tasks, saving complex ones for qualified journeypersons. Apprentices are cheaper to have on staff, earning just 40% of a journeyperson’s rate. As years pass and they become more skilled and more valuable to the employer, they earn up to 80%.

Sherri Haigh, speaking for the IBEW CCO/Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario’s JEPP program, commented, “Any apprenticeship model must focus on the important value of hands on experience and the ability to earn while you learn. That is really what makes it work.”

Keeping What Works

If the Ontario government wishes to promote the success of apprentices and the continued creation of the best trained and most qualified workers in the world, they will agree to consultations with skilled trades and their employers. We’re ready to talk about the options for making some real improvement to the process.

Let’s make sure we do this right.