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Ontario, Seeking to Reform Apprenticeship Programs, Turns Deaf Ear to Unions; IBEW Balks

IBEW CCO apprenticeships

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Last year, the Ontario government vowed to add an additional $55 million in spending to union apprenticeship programs. Among other things, some of the money was intended to go toward awareness campaigns targeting groups underrepresented in the trades:

“There are thousands of young people in high schools who have not thought about a career in the skilled trades. … We need to make sure that young people from all backgrounds have the exposure to the variety of opportunities that are available,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne.

[…] With one in five new jobs in the province expected to be in the skilled trades, the money will support creating a work force that can build the $130-billion in infrastructure projects outlined in last year’s budget.

Earlier this year, the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Strategy Expert Panel released a report, “Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility.”. The report proposes some questionable reforms:

The report calls for changes to the current apprenticeship training process that would see students spending over 2 years in a classroom before they ever step foot on a work site. It also calls for streamlining of the application process, so that it’s all done through Colleges Ontario. Right now, individual employers are heavily involved by sponsoring and monitoring the apprentice from the beginning.

As the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW COO) points out on its website, this is problematic for a number of reasons. Most pointedly, they highlight the importance of early hands-on experience. Apprentices currently have the opportunity to “earn as they learn,” and to test the waters before committing.

IBEW CCO Executive Chairman of Membership Development James Barry acknowledges that apprenticeship reform is a worthwhile and valuable endeavor, but he wants to make sure his organization has a seat at the table. He says the IBEW COO will request involvement in upcoming revisions:

“The IBEW supports any initiative that helps improve the success of apprentices and increases the importance of highly skilled electricians and other skilled trades in Ontario,” said Barry.

“We will be reaching out to the Minister of Advanced Education on Skills Development to request to be a part of the upcoming consultation given our knowledge of skilled trades and experience with training, safety, and excellence in the workplace.”

The perpetual pursuit of improvement is a noble and important one, but it is equally important to hold on to the elements of a system that work.


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