By IAN ROSS and KELLY LOUISEIZE
Northern Ontario Business
Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities is taking the Kaizen approach to dealing with shortfalls in the province's apprenticeship training program, calling it a "situation of continuous improvement."
In late December, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter said in his 2008 report that fewer than half of apprentices are completing their training. As well, half of all apprentices are failing their final certification exams.
Minister John Milloy acknowledged the findings in the auditor's report but said it's nothing new that the government isn't already addressing.
"We've always recognized it's a case of continuous improvement, there's always more enhancements to be done."
Milloy said McCarter's report was headed in a direction that supports the work his ministry has been doing and it has found room for improvements in the apprenticeship system.
"We welcome the Auditor General's report and take his advice very seriously," he added, but "we've already taken action on a number of fronts."
The ministry began using, what it calls, a 'continuous improvement performance management system.' But McCarter states it has reported only on the number of apprenticeship registrations. There is not any other "meaningful performance information" about the program as to whether apprentices are completing their training.
Milloy said the Ministry has to get an accurate picture of what's going on out there in the economy to make informed decisions.
"I think we're all headed in the same direction which is, how can we keep on improving the apprenticeship system?"
Milloy said there's many factors behind students not completing their training.
Some may leave a program early to take a job and regret that later when they go looking for a new job without a certification of completion, said Milloy.
The proposed Ontario College of Trades will get a better understanding from all angles as to why people don't finish. Legislation will be introduced this spring at Queen's Park to get it started.
"It doesn't grab headlines to say we need more data," said Milloy.
It will be headed up by Kevin Whitaker, chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board. He will develop the college's governance and address issues of compulsory certification, apprenticeship ratios and enforcement functions. Whitaker said the challenge in developing the report is that skilled trades fall under a range of diverse needs, approximately 160 distinct trades with each categorized under auto, service, construction or industrial sector.
“The intent will be to identify and determine the significant issues across the broad range of skills,” he said and reach a common ground with unions, private industry, colleges and ministries.
Twenty-one of the distinct trades requires compulsory certification such as electricians and hairstylists. Whitaker will examine if the number of compulsory trades needs to be expanded to include skills such as cook apprentices. This way it will encourage people to see the value of completing the program.
Another is the change in ratios, that is the number of apprentices the company can have on the shop floor based on the number of qualified journeypersons at the same site. The ratios vary with each trade.
“The ratio is lower here than most of other jurisdictions in Canada,” Barbara Taylor, president of Canadore College, said.
“This is a constant concern to employers,” especially small and medium sized employers (SMEs) that only hire one journeyperson and therefore are restricted to the number of apprentices.”
“Regulations dictate that even if they wanted to, they couldn't (take on any more),” she said.
Enforcing new ratio regulations and the employers' obligation to have abide by them will be another hot-button issue. But finding solutions is necessary and no one wants this to work more than governments, private industries and the facilities of academia, says Taylor.
Another point of concern for Taylor is allowing international tradespeople to be employed with Canadian companies. The notion of immigrants coming in to take over skilled labour jobs is misleading, Taylor says, because despite the current economic challenge, the Conference Board of Canada numbers say otherwise.
“We have a shortfall, so why spend money retraining (immigrant tradespeople) if it is a question of recognizing something they already have,” she said.
By 2020, Ontario will be short 190,000 skilled-labour jobs. By 2025 it will hover around a quarter of a million and by 2030, it is expected to reach more than half a million, according to the Conference Board of Canada information.
Milloy said getting more people turned onto the trades, investing and enhancing the apprenticeship system has been a huge priority of the McGuinty government since 2003.
In the recent budget, Ontario included Second Career Strategy and apprenticeship commitments increases over the next three years by 25 per cent for skilled trades. This is in addition to the $48 million investment for institutions delivering apprenticeship programs. Colleges are now able to compete for funds to enhance trades infrastructure and development.
The creation of the College of Trades came out of last May's provincial compulsory certification review (known as the Armstrong report) which studied and recommended ways to improve Ontario's apprenticeship program.
It will serve as a regulatory body, like the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario, and will take ownership of the entire apprenticeship system. It will set the accreditation standards that takes care of those issues that affect the trades and is done by experts in the field.
In analyzing construction demographics, industry obviously needs more younger people to replace retirees. One aim of Milloy's ministry is to attract more under-represented groups like women and Aboriginal people.
Milloy said the government has made "tremendous headway," however more can be done. "but I think we should celebrate our success over the last five years."
The college will also examine the ratios of apprentices to journeymen on the job site.
Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter's findings:
- Apprenticeship training consultants at field offices were unable to conduct more than a few, if any, monitoring visits to employers and in-class training providers.
- the Ministry had no strategy in increase apprenticeship registration in high-demand skilled trades.
- the Ministry has passed on safety enforcement audits, to ensure only certificated individuals work in trades restricted for safety reasons, onto Ministry of Labour inspectors.
- Inconsistencies were found on how local offices decide how much support to provide clients of the Skills Development and Self-Employment Programs.
- Some individual client training agreement (in the Skills Development Program) cost the Ministry more than $50,000 and we not in line with program objectives.
***- the Ministry did not have adequate information on whether clients remained employed in the fields they were trained for and whether self-employment clients were able to sustain their new businesses.