We can puff out our chests with pride. The most current OECD numbers show that Canada still tops the charts for postsecondary attainment — number one in college attainment, number one in overall attainment for 25 to 64 year olds. And Ontario’s at the top of the heap in both college and university attainment for 25 to 34 year olds. But what happens when we look at apprenticeships and trades? Absolutely bottom of the heap.
Ontario has a less than a 5% attainment rate – compared to Newfoundland and Quebec at almost 20% and Saskatchewan and Alberta hovering around 15%. And don’t even get me started about international comparisons. Why should we care?
The trades seem more important than ever these days. Need a plumber, a welder or an electrician? Skilled trades people are essential to Ontario’s economic development and infrastructure. Apprenticeship is also an essential part of the postsecondary world — creating exciting choices and pathways for students who are interested in pursuing a career path in the trades.
So, what’s going on? Are young people simply not going into the trades? Do we not have the capacity and resources to train them? Are they not completing? Do we have the infrastructure to support the training? What barriers are employers facing in taking on apprentices?
Every year, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) looks for topics that resonate with the sector; that capture the zeitgeist of the moment. In years past, HEQCO ‘s annual conferences have dealt with a number of hot-button issues including financial literacy, pathways into the labour market and learning outcomes. This year’s conference,Hands on: Exploring apprenticeship and the skilled trades, is proof positive that we’re neither short on compelling questions nor the expertise for answers.
The Nov. 5-6 conference opens with a leadership panel facilitated by education journalist Jennifer Lewington. Four leaders in the sector – including Sara Watts-Rynard from the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Pat Blackwood from the Ontario College of Trades — will share their perspectives on workforce readiness and the state of the sector.
Bookending the two-day event is a provocative panel titled The Trades: A Great Choice for Someone Else’s Kids? We have asked Wab Kinew, Annie Kidder and Sean Reid to give us their best thoughts on public perceptions about the trades and how we can create a “reputation renovation.” Another panel goes first-person with a group of young apprentices talking about their particular choices and pathways.
Other sessions will explore a variety of issues including women in the trades, private/public sector partnerships, innovative uses of technology in teaching, the place of essential skills development in the trades, lessons from abroad (with a particular focus on Germany) and the role of the regulators.
It will be a fascinating and instructive two days, with important lessons for higher education from a sector that is all about the integration of learning and work. We hope you will join us.
Fiona Deller is HEQCO’s executive director of policy and partnerships.
This blog was originally published by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.