Gorvernment Aid for Trades
By: Don Procter
The Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments have embarked on several initiatives to draw more youth into careers in the building industry. One of those moves, by the province of Ontario, offers $1,000 scholarships to high school dropouts who are willing to return to finish high school and become apprentices.
"It's a great move," says Hugh Laird, executive director of the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario. "We've been talking to this government and previous provincial governments about the high unemployment rate among youth, which was around 21 percent the last time I saw the stats. That unemployment rate is ludicrous because we have had to go overseas to find workers to fill high paying jobs-$70,000 (Cdn.) annually."
The province also plans an apprenticeship training tax credit that offers employers who take on apprentices a $5,000 credit per apprentice. The credit will be up to a maximum $15,000 over the three-year term required to complete an apprenticeship program, points out Laird. "It is fantastic. It is more than we expected and more than we asked for."
Meanwhile, from the federal government comes a program to create websites that pitch trades to youth. The program, by Skills Canada, will feature creative Web sites written and designed for youth with descriptions of various trades along with a rundown on wages/salaries. It, too, is good for the industry, Laird says, stressing that the Web sites should contain links to trade associations such as ISCA "because we are the people who actually do the training."
ISCA is no stranger to recruitment endeavors. Over the years the association has developed trades awareness and recruitment campaigns targeted at high and junior high school students. "I think that if the federal government gave the individual apprentice trades the money we could market ourselves better than Skills Canada because we can tap into the market (youth) directly," Laird says.
The federal government provided trades with training money up until the late 1990s when it handed funding responsibilities over to the provinces. While other provinces have taken the baton, Ontario's provincial government never has. "When the federal government cut off funding," Laird says, "this province didn't take over. We were left with nothing." Simply put, if ISCA wants money for training, it must raise it through its membership.
Another recent announcement by the federal government is a $12 million nationwide ad campaign to run 30-second commercials on television and radio about the benefits of hiring women and visible minorities in the trades. A good use of money? Maybe for some trades hit by skilled worker shortages, says Laird, but there are virtually no women choosing a career in drywall installation because of the physical nature of the work. What's more, in Toronto many, if not most, of the drywall tradespeople are visible minorities.
Laird says traditionally government money for trades has been directed toward community colleges and technical institutes but that should change because those schools don't always teach students practical skills for the real world. "That's why we developed a training center in the first place: to give the industry the workers with the skills they require. In every advanced class here, we get manufacturers and others from the industry to come in and talk to the class and show them new products. You don't have that kind of interaction in the college system."
With the extra money coming for recruitment and training from these government initiatives, a big question remains unanswered: Will associations like ISCA have the facilities to handle additional apprentices? Some associations won't, but Laird says ISCA will. In fact, the association is poised to announce the construction of a new, bigger training center. "We're jammed at the seams and need to expand," he says.
More about ISCA's plans in a future column.
About the Author
Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.