Editor’s Note: Since coming into office last year, the provincial Conservative government has instituted some rather smucky policies governing colleges and universities. But the one thing you can’t argue about – and that it deserves some credit for – is that it has stepped up the promotion of skilled trades education.
And rightfully so, given the “skilled trades gap” that still looms for the province (and the nation).
As we’ve noted before, if you have a tough repair in your home, and you call for an electrician or a plumber, chances that that the person who shows up at your door will be a 50- to 65-year-old guy. The same holds true for a substantial percentage of the automotive mechanics, carpenters, welders, brick masons, heavy-machinery operators and other tradespeople. The majority of them are on the plus-side of 50 ... which means they are looking to retire within the next few years.
The “gap” arises because, for the past several decades, not enough young people have been pursuing training and education in these fields to fill the imminent – and catastrophic – manpower void which will be caused by those retirements.
As this crisis has developed, people have finally begun to recognize the phenomenal opportunity associated with this occupational shortage. Guidance counsellors and parents who previously thought that a university education was the sole barometer of success (or, at least, status) for their children have now realized that skilled trades have the potential to be immensely lucrative career-paths. Indeed, given the looming gap, they virtually guarantee employment – and, in many cases, self-employment, because young tradespeople can take over existing businesses from retirees or start their own.
And young people, too, are recognizing that such careers can be remarkably fulfilling on a personal level, allowing one to point at something tangible and say, “I built that”.
All of that is being celebrated this week during National Skilled Trades and Technology Week – during which the provincial government reiterated its promotion of education in this field. Here’s its press release for that event:
About one in five new jobs in Ontario over the next five years is expected to be in trades-related occupations. Across the country this week, people and organizations will be hosting events to raise awareness about the many exciting career opportunities in that sector.
"There's a problem on our horizon: Ontario is facing a shortage of workers in the skilled trades," said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. "The solution is clear. We need to let young people and their parents know that a career in the trades is exciting, fulfilling, and lucrative. These are well-paying jobs. We also need to transform our apprenticeship system to make it easier to use."
The Ontario government is kicking off National Skilled Trades and Technology Week by launching ontario.ca/trades, a new hub where people can explore the trades and learn how to become a tradesperson. Employers and current tradespeople can also get help with hiring and learn about changes to the skilled trades and apprenticeship system.
"Our government knows that there are tremendous opportunities in the skilled trades in our province," said McNaughton. "By creating a one-stop shop that makes it easier for people to explore career opportunities in the skilled trades and for employers to hire apprentices and tradespeople, we can help build the workforce Ontario needs to be open for business and open for jobs."
During National Skilled Trades and Technology Week and beyond, the government will continue to build on the actions already taken to modernize skilled trades and apprenticeship in Ontario, which include:
• Expanding the province's Specialist High Skills Major program to include an additional 122 new programs aimed at encouraging more high school students to consider the skilled trades as a viable career;
• Supporting over 1,600 people in 2018-19 to prepare for jobs in the skilled trades through Ontario's pre-apprenticeship training program;
• Reducing journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios to one-to-one default for restricted trades, including construction trades;
• Continuing to wind down the Ontario College of Trades; eliminating the College's annual renewal fees for apprentices; and reducing fees for journeypersons by 50 percent.
"Our economy is evolving and the skilled trades are evolving with it," said Minister McNaughton. "We want young people and their parents to know that trades are using new and modern technology in these exciting careers."
Pre-apprenticeship training programs are publicly-funded, last up to one year, and often combine classroom training with an 8- to 12-week work placement. To find out about programs in your area, contact Employment Ontario by phone, e-mail or live chat.
Over the first half of 2019, Ontario employers had, on average, 200,000 job openings across all occupations and industries. 13,000 of them were in the construction sector alone.
Retirements in the skilled trades are a main driver of the need for more skilled workers. In 2016, 31 percent of skilled trades journeypersons were aged 55 years and over, compared to 22 percent of all workers in Ontario.
On May 29, 2019, Ontario passed the Modernizing the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2019 to help transform the skilled trades and apprenticeship system, reduce red tape, and make Ontario open for business and open for jobs. That transformation, which will result in a more customer-friendly system, is currently underway.