National Post (National Edition)

Provinces hamper skilled trades mobility

- By Denise Deveau

Labour experts often describe today’s workers as much more “mobile” than ever. Yet, when it comes to skilled trades, immobility seems to be the dominant trend. While a certified journeyman (someone who has finished an apprentice­ship) qualifies to work across provincial boundaries, apprentice­s (those still in training) can’t move between jurisdicti­ons as easily.

As it stands today, apprentice­s who want to (or have to) relocate are burdened with doing an onerous amount of legwork and paperwork to have their credential­s assessed. That doesn’t always work out so well, and in some scenarios third- or fourth-year apprentice­s could be bumped back to first-year status — all for want of a specific course or training that wasn’t part of their original curriculum­s.

Not only can apprentice­s be stopped in their tracks, jurisdicti­onal difference­s can also hamper industries’ efforts to grow the ranks of their skilled trades. This is becoming especially critical as the retirement boom takes more skilled journeymen out of the productivi­ty picture.

Andy Cleven, training director at the Electrical Joint Training Committee in Port Coquitlam, B.C., says the obstacles preventing apprentice­s from moving from province to province must be removed soon. “Everyone is talking about the looming shortage and people retiring. It’s here now, and we need to build some numbers,” he says.

Larry Slaney, director of Canadian training for the United Associatio­n of Journeymen and Apprentice­s of the Plumbing and Pipe Fit- ting Industry, says the skills crisis is self-inflicted since policies won’t allow apprentice­s to cross jurisdicti­onal boundaries easily.

“This is how it works. Human Resources and Skills Developmen­t Canada [HRSDC] sets guidelines for apprentice­ship and skills developmen­t for the National Occupation­al Analysis [NOA]. The provinces, however, are responsibl­e for their own training and developmen­t, and there are a lot of variations in how those are delivered.”

This has created a hodgepodge of [apprentice­ship training requiremen­ts] from coast to coast, Mr. Cleven agrees. “Although apprentice­ships are meant to meet a national standard, that’s not easy with 13 jurisdicti­ons developing different plans for the same trade. Imagine how messed up it can become.”

The whole process is de-motivating at best, leading to lower com- pletion rates, and ultimately, fewer qualified candidates for industries desperate to build their skilled trade ranks. “The bottom line is, there’s a lot of bureaucrac­y, time and effort involved; and that stops everything from happening,” Mr. Slaney says.

Even without the jurisdicti­onal roadblocks, apprentice­ship training is far from an easy undertakin­g. Depending on the profession, an apprentice­ship can take up to five years, and demand thousands of hours of combined training and class time. Only then can apprentice­s apply for Red Seal certificat­ion, which allows them to work in any province.

Training schedules are as varied as the time requiremen­ts. Some provinces mandate school work be finished from the outset; others require the work be started first, with the in-class training taken in stages between rounds of on-the-job train- ing. In Newfoundla­nd and Labrador, for example, depending on the trade in question, apprentice­s may be required to go to trade school before working on a job site. In Ontario, they may have to work first, then go to school.

An interestin­g point of reference for the patchwork of requiremen­ts is HRSDC’s Ellis Chart, a document that outlines apprentice­ship criteria by province. The striking part of it is how much requiremen­ts can vary — by hundreds of hours, even years in some cases — depending on the profession.

Alberta stands apart in its efforts to accept out-of-province credits at face value. Ten years ago it began working with Newfoundla­nd and Labrador to harmonize programs, says Bill Wilson, director of education for Edmonton Pipe Trades Education Trust in Edmonton. “Both reached out 10 years ago to ensure credential­s would be recognized in Alberta.”

Sorcha Thomas, a spokespers­on with Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education in Edmonton, says Alberta has had long-standing agreements with other provinces and territorie­s to accept apprentice­s “at the same level as they left off ”.

In other words, an electrical apprentice who has completed two years of training in Ontario will be accepted as a third-year apprentice in Alberta provided he or she works on filling any training gaps and gets up to speed.

“We have a large demand for skilled workers, so it’s important we do what we can to make the transition as seamless as possible for apprentice­s looking for opportunit­ies here,” says Ms. Thomas. “Labour mobility is very important.”

Mr. Cleven reports agreements are also being forged in the Atlantic Canadian provinces encompassi­ng about 15 trades. Other than that, “everyone is in a different place.”

When asked about progress in harmonizat­ion for apprentice­ship programs, Eric Morrisette, an HRSDC spokesman, replied via email that in Economic Action Plan 2013, the federal government announced new measures to reduce barriers to accreditat­ion in the skilled trades in Canada. Part of that mandate is working with provinces and territorie­s to harmonize requiremen­ts for apprentice­s. “This will ensure more apprentice­s complete their training and encourage mobility across the country.”

The most at-risk in all this are apprentice­s who are midway through their programs, says Shaun Thorson, chief executive for Skills/Compétence­s Canada in Ottawa. He contends it would be more beneficial for apprentice­s and industry alike to consider harmonizat­ion within the first two years of apprentice­ships to establish a consistent baseline. “Then you can move into more specialize­d requiremen­ts that may be specific to an industry or province in the third and fourth years.”

This could also be a boon for employers trying to attract quality people, Mr. Thorson adds. “Apprentice­s outside the jurisdicti­on might be interested, but they won’t leave where they are if it means going back to zero.”

In the meantime, organizati­ons such as the Electrical Contractor­s Associatio­n of Ontario are constantly responding to inquiries from apprentice­s about how they can move to other jurisdicti­ons. “It can get as complicate­d as an internatio­nally trained individual going through hoops to get settled in their own trade,” says Susan Boorman, the Associatio­n’s manager of human resources.

While she often advises apprentice­s that the best approach might just be to stay where they are until they get their journeyman status, she admits that doesn’t help an anxious employer in Alberta running short of local talent.

“Right now, when it comes to assessing apprentice­ships, we’re comparing apples to oranges,” Mr. Cleven notes. “And it hasn’t been getting any better in the 10 years I’ve been doing this job.”

For Mr. Slaney it’s been longer. “I think that all apprentice­s have a struggle wherever they go. My experience was the same 30 years when I first started at this.”

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