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Literacy tied to successful apprenticeships: report

Ontario is experiencing a need for skilled trades workers, but a lack of literacy skills can be a barrier to people completing their apprenticeships and passing their qualification exams.
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A recent report indicates literacy is directly tied to the success of workers in completing their apprenticeships. The report recommends literacy skills providers collaborate to ensure apprentices receive the guidance they need to improve their skills.

Ontario is experiencing a need for skilled trades workers, but a lack of literacy skills can be a barrier to people completing their apprenticeships and passing their qualification exams.

A recent report examines the links between apprenticeships and literacy and offers best practices to help bridge that gap.

Supporting Apprenticeship Completions: a Model of Service Provision was commissioned by Workforce Planning for Sudbury & Manitoulin, the Mid-North Network and the Labour Market Group (Nipissing and Parry Sound).

A lack of literacy skills, including communications, studying skills, test anxiety and speaking a language other than English, all contribute to difficulties apprentices face when trying to pass their qualifying exam, the report indicates.

One of the key findings, says project coordinator Stewart Kallio, is that there’s a need for literacy skills providers to collaborate on ensuring apprentices receive the guidance they need to improve their skills. “There’s a real opportunity for the literacy and basic skills service providers to play a role in helping apprentices prepare and be successful,” Kallio said. “To this point, they haven’t had a strong role to play in working with apprentices and the trades.”

Apprentices often don’t know where to turn for help, and so they get frustrated and give up, Kallio said.

But if service providers can actively work to recruit apprentices and help them update and improve their skills, they could enhance their rate of success substantially.

“We actually demonstrated some best practices for going out to recruit apprentices, some strong approaches to doing really good assessment to see what the exact problem is, and then some effective training that focused on getting them the kind of help they need,” Kallio said. “Every apprentice who’s trying to complete is different.”

Service providers also need to put more emphasis on using an essential skills framework to assess the readiness of apprentices to perform work competently.

To get the experience they need, apprentices have to find an employer willing to take them on, but it’s harder for small businesses to get on board because of the cost and time commitment involved. Often, after they’ve trained an apprentice, that person will leave for another, higher paying job.

In some cases, even if they have all their hours, employers still might not hire them because they haven’t completed Grade 12.

The average age of a person going back for an apprenticeship is 38, Kallio said. After being out of school for 15 years or more, it can be intimidating to go back.

“We can meet with them,” Kallio said. “We can develop a training plan that helps them get on track to complete a Grade 12.”

In hopes that the skills service providers follow through on the report’s recommendations, a framework has been put in place for every community to start the conversation about apprenticeships and literacy. “The plan is to promote the best practices within Employment Ontario network and hope that people actually start to make referrals, be better informed about apprenticeship, know their community and the scope of services that are available and actually integrate those together so that an apprentice is well served,” Kallio said.

That includes Aboriginal communities.

It’s been repeated that First Nation populations are an untapped demographic when it comes to filling skilled trades positions. The potential is there, Kallio said, but there needs to be more communication with First Nations, and it needs to be sensitive to treaties and inherent rights.

“We have to do more than simply introduce training into communities,” Kallio said. “We have to step back one step from that and do what I call community-based skills assessment. We have to do an assessment of the skill supply that is available in the community.”

That means cataloguing who has what skills in each community.

Having a database of sorts will help target the type and depth of training required to get potential workers up to speed. It’s something that could be happening on an ongoing basis and doesn’t have to be driven by a mining company setting up next door, Kallio said. It should be happening now.

Kallio said there would likely be followup through the literacy networks around the North to determine whether these best practices are being followed and to see if it makes a difference in apprenticeship completion rates.

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