Guest blogger: Stewart Kallio
Hands On: Exploring Apprenticeship and the Skilled Trades
Work in the trades provides good, well-paying jobs, yet young Canadians do not see the skilled trades as a viable career. Often, they enter an apprenticeship path later in their work career. In Ontario, for example, the average age of an apprentice is approximately 27.Contrast this scenario with Germany, where young people who enter secondary school and choose a program of trade study are “hired” by an employer who commits to an apprenticeship upon graduation. The skilled trades are seen as viable careers and are well supported within the social structure. Education and training start early and the average age of an apprentice is 19.
There is strong demand in Canada for skilled trades workers. The demand is most evident in the construction trades because so much new development (northern Ontario is a good example) begins with building infrastructure such as roads, electrical capacity and housing. Workers in this trade sector often have a great deal of practical experience gained from years working in the field. However, many of these same workers do not have grade 12 or OECD minimum proficiency (level 3) literacy skills.
Only 11 of Ontario’s 42 construction trades are compulsory (where certification is legally required to work) but the Certificate of Qualification is available for 19 additional construction trades. Employers are increasingly asking for certification in the voluntary trades, putting pressure on older and experienced workers to register as “trade qualifiers” and write qualifying exams. It’s not easy to pass the exam, but they try and then try again, and sometimes they just give up. According to the Ontario Construction Secretariat, Ontario’s construction industry shows strong growth and very low unemployment. Over 95,000 construction workers will be needed between 2014 and 2023. Apprenticeships help supply the demand for construction workers, yet completion rates continue to lag far behind registrations.
Entering into an apprenticeship can be a challenge. It’s often difficult to find a willing employer, particularly one who can provide the full scope of practice in the trade. Apprenticeship training may not be locally available. Finances can be a problem, particularly with older apprentices with home and family commitments.
Barriers to successfully completing an apprenticeship include lack of senior-level mathematics and communications; essential literacy skills below level 3; ill focused/ineffective study skills, test anxiety, gaps in trade knowledge resulting from work experience that is too specialized; difficulty with specialized trade language, particularly if English is not the first language; and cultural differences.
Ontario’s Literacy and Basic Skills program plays an important role in preparing adult learners for entry to the skilled trades. Clearly, apprenticeship’s role in building a skilled workforce is very high on the agenda of employers, labour and government.
Literacy Northwest helps to address skills shortages by providing
Literacy and Basic Skills practitioners with critical apprenticeship information and resources directly related to improving learners’ access to apprenticeship. A recent program addressed learners’ lack of senior-level mathematics and communications or essential literacy skills below level 3.
Among current initiatives is a project focused on digital technology skills. The nature of work is changing as some jobs disappear, current jobs adapt and new jobs are created. Workers currently employed in the trades may be challenged by new tasks which require new and/or higher levels of literacy to perform digital skills.
A second project seeks to increase employer support for apprenticeship hiring and completion, and will invite apprenticeship employer stakeholders to regional consultations/forums to examine their concerns and generate practical strategies to overcome those concerns.
Rick Miner, consultant, author and president emeritus of Seneca College, warns that the labor force supply will fall short of demand unless effective actions are taken to increase the proportion of skilled labor. That urgency drives the work of Literacy Northwest, which believes that every person who is able to work will be needed to work.
Stewart Kallio is principal consultant at Kallio Consulting and is the project coordinator for Literacy Northwest.
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