Compulsory Trades Certification Coming?

Don Procter

May 2008

Just 21 of the 140 or so skilled trades in Ontario with apprenticeship training actually require compulsory certification. What that means is only certified skilled workers or registered apprentices can work in a trade requiring compulsory certification; the trade of an electrician is a case in point.

Certification for the remaining 120 trades (including those in wall and ceiling industry in Ontario) is strictly done on a voluntary basis. But compulsory certification could be on the horizon for many trades as the result of an intensive 10-month review nearing completion by the provincial government.

The intent of the review is to make sure the apprenticeship system continues to meet safety standards, provides value to consumers, and serves the needs of the growing economy, according to Kevin Dove, spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Ron Johnson, deputy director of the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario, says compulsory certification is "long overdue” for many building trades. He believes it would raise the quality of workmanship standards in the building industry while curbsiding many shoddy and fly-by-night contractors.

While certification is voluntary in the drywall industry, the workers of ISCA’s contractor members are generally highly trained because the association works with its union partners on apprenticeship and health and safety training. Through the association’s Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre, apprentices can obtain a drywall acoustic mechanic or a lather and finisher plasterer ticket only after the successful completion of 5,400 hours of work and schooling.

"The problem is that there are a whole lot people (non-member contractors) out there doing this kind of work who don’t have the same level of skill or health and safety training,” Johnson says.

Compulsory certification, he points out, would make it easier to recruit and keep workers in the field because it would "bring a great deal more credibility to the job they are doing.” Evidence bears this out. "People in compulsory trades now have a far easier time retaining apprentices,” Johnson says.

Currently, ISCA’s training center instructs several hundred apprentices and several thousand people a year in health and safety courses. If compulsory certification is mandated, those numbers would increase. But Johnson isn’t worried that its training facility would be overburdened because other training facilities would take up the slack.

The government report’s findings are expected to be released later this spring, says Dove. There won’t be any recommendations on compulsory certification for specific trades, but the report will recommend an overall framework to allow the government to make decisions.

Its findings will be based on a review of the process with building industry stakeholders, such as ISCA’s Johnson. Public consultations were conducted at six meetings across the province. Every trade that has an Industry Council and Provincial Advisory Committee was invited to provide input, and most did. Almost all of the 75 or so major trades with apprenticeship participation were consulted as well.

Johnson’s take on the review’s early findings is that only the trades that want compulsory certification will need to apply for it. In other words, he believes the province won’t enforce compulsory certification on building trades such as those in the heavy civil sector (roadbuilders, for example) that don’t see it as beneficial.

He says more than 95 percent of all those attending the consultations supported compulsory certification. The review came about as a result of pressure applied by a number of building trades to expand compulsory certification.

Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.