Apprenticeship ratios making the trades shortage worse
The organized sector is making the trades shortage much worse than it should be. And qualified applicants, who want to work, can't get jobs.
By Steve Payne
By D. Brian Baker,
Custom Vac Limited,
Apprenticeship ratios were the main topic of discussion in Winnipeg two weeks ago on a prominent radio station’s morning show (CJOB’s RCR, hosted by Richard Cloutier). Heated discussions took place between the organized sector and non-organized sectors while a young well-spoken woman explained her plight to find entry-level employment. All she wanted was job as an apprentice electrician but could not find anyone to hire her even though all the companies where she applied had told her they wanted to hire her, but could not due to the ratios of 1 to 1.
Anyone in the mechanicals industry understands the demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high; Companies have been unable to solve these workplace shortage, causing many of them to turn work down. Recently, we heard of Alberta bringing in foreign workers who are being fast-tracked to become power engineers. And yet, at the same time this young woman on the radio in Winnipeg was explaining that she could not secure employment due to the ratio issue.
In Ottawa, citizen and immigration minister Jason Kenney has been supporting increasing the numbers of foreign workers and fast-tracking them into permanent jobs. What about individuals here in Canada who seek a better paying job for their families but cannot gain a foothold due to apprenticeship ratios? Of course, the organized sector raises the safety issue, making this their line in the sand. No one disagrees that the safety of workers is paramount. But this is a turf issue, mostly. Why do I say this? Because if they really cared about safety, the organized sector would look at the realities in the workplace and see what the rest of us see. The governments which control the apprenticeship system are also to blame for a lot of what is going on and has been happening.
Sadly, as this article is being written, a 30-year-old worker has just been electrocuted while working on a roof-top unit in Ottawa. Details are not available other than this worker was alone at the time of the incident.
In Manitoba, we once had provincial trade advisory committees (PTAC’s) and an Apprenticeship Board who had a good balanced matrix of members from urban, rural and remote areas; from organized, non-organized and publicly-owned firms; from large and small contractors working in residential, commercial and industrial construction; and from education. No one single sector or group could bully the othesr or push items forward. For a long time now, this has not been the case and for the most part the organized sector has ruled the roost, following the government’s agenda. The result is the system is worse now that anytime in past history.
The government took examinations away, shoving them over to the Office of the Fire Commissioner (OFC) to manage. That went over like a rock, because no one knew anything about the examination process since the individual who had been doing this retired. This left individuals requiring testing when graduating in June to wait to challenge their exams in November or December. Some were given the wrong examinations and failed resulting in their loss of job or advancement. One of my students lost her job position because she failed the exam not once but twice until it was realized she was writing the wrong exam.
A fellow who came to me for tutoring after failing level 1 gas fitting and I was able to find out he was able to get into the new two year gas fitter program with less than 250 hours when he needed 1500. Today apprenticeship councillors have no control and no say. In fact, they have been given strict ‘verbal’ instruction as to what they will do and if they rock the boat, it’s the high seas for them which is why none of them will go on the record.
Some apprentices are as much as 16 months ahead in school from where their hours are and yet employers are having to paying the higher wage rates while unable to hire additional new entry level workers. Many companies have no idea when hiring these apprentices that they likely have not yet worked the required hours.
Apprenticeship was founded on the fact that 80% of their time is spent in the workplace on-the-job working under the direct supervision of a journeyperson and 20% of the time in class learning and that prior to the release to school they had to have worked the required hours.
When I was on the Manitoba Apprenticeship PTAC and Board later on I always raised the issue of this “direct supervision” and asked, “What does this mean?” No one ever wanted to deal with it. Well the organized sector may claim they adhere to the one-to-one ratios and I can agree so do others. What they do not do is actually have the apprentice work alongside in direct supervision of a Journeyperson. I know of individuals who are today Journeypersons and they did not work one day under a Journeyperson. Out of level one and/or pre-employment courses they were hired given a $45,000 truck filled with $30,000 of tools and inventory and given calls to run the same day. So, if safety is the real issue for Government and the organized sector why is this still happening?
One thing that we do in my own company is force our apprentices to work with various Journeypersons because it is the best way to build a long term employee and quite frankly it is the most costly as well. But, we do let our apprentices get out there more and by level 3 they do not need the same supervision or at least they have been trained to recognize their limitations and ask for help. But the system does not recognize this. Apprenticeship is a learning process for everyone. One could parallel this to raising young children who as we know require more attention. In fact, Manitoba announced smaller class sizes and more teachers to meet this need for school entry level children through the early development years. At the same time older kids are given more free rein and so goes life. So this begs the question, why can the ratios not be adjusted so that a Journeyperson could supervise more than one apprentice? The way it has been working has turned out a dismal number of really good Journeypersons because they have not been given the supervision they should have received. This whole mess needs to be placed on the table, taken out of the closet and dealt with.
We have councillors who have intervened and denied some apprentices as many as two years of hours because the companies they worked for did not have any Journeypersons on staff. These same companies are my competitors and no one is doing anything about them. Apprenticeship knows about these issues and does nothing about it. Why?
We once had competency checklists and they hit the garbage can and are no longer being used. When signing up on-line as an apprentice they still have to go down in person and submit two pieces of ID, so where is the savings and why was this taken away from the duties of the councillors?
The Government has initiated all kinds of programs and financial assistance programs to help increase apprenticeship numbers and they have done this but no one can hire them because of the ratios and so many companies operate outside the regulations because work has to be done and no one is going to do anything to you anyway, so life rolls along. In the rural areas they even offer business start-up money for young Journeypersons. The guy whose business has been there for 20+ years employing young people and working to build his business finds that at the end of 4 years his employee gets the Government to help him become his former employer’s competitor. In the small marketplace they now compete and one can argue this is good for business. At the same time how many young Journeypersons have both the business and technical skills they need to succeed?
The trades remain somewhat unfriendly and sexist to women entering the trades with some terrible stories coming from some of the women, this is unacceptable. My personal experience is that the mechanical trades are good for women and many of my students have gone on to become Power Engineers.
Manitoba has failed the apprenticeship system. Sure they doubled the numbers of apprentices, but they did nothing to build the infrastructure at the college to properly train them while in school. They at the same time took what was10-month pre-employment programs and reduced them to 5-month programs still issuing Level 1 credit. Some of the old 10-month refrigeration and air conditioning graduated did not even get lab time, so no to little hands-on. This is why the Government had to form A-West a place where struggling apprentices are sent for help with math, science and other subjects. Truth is that they are not being helped because I see them and talk with some who have gone there only to find support elsewhere.
Finally when I was on the apprenticeship board and compulsory trades were being designated it was all about education and training, NOT turf wars. But with the change in Government brought the new meaning to be protecting turf which is why today many are being told they can no longer hire general labour. This is wrong, young people deserve a real shot at working and earning a wage and being given serious consideration to receive and advancement and acceptance as an apprentice. But everyone must earn that right. We also must also recognize that business needs time to fully vet through the new hire through what is typically a 90 day probationary period to see if the fit is there. But Government wants business to sign the new hire up as an apprentice on day one. Why, if the new hire remains they can still receive their hours based on the start of their employment. The system does not need to be bogged down with potential new hires entering the system and then dropping out, unless of course you are concerned as the Government is in losing those registration fees