The government's response to my letter

December 7, 2018 - Reading time: 10 minutes

Dear Mr. Firth:

 

I am responding to your email of April 26, 2018, concerning the Government of Canada’s approach to supporting apprenticeship and the skilled trades. I appreciate your sharing your experiences and views on the Government’s measures aimed at increasing entry into apprenticeship.

 

I especially noted your view that making more apprenticeship opportunities available to young Canadians could be a more effective way to support the development of skilled tradespeople than direct incentives for apprentices.

 

Many of the Government of Canada’s investments in apprenticeship are aimed at providing support and incentives to ensure there is an appropriate supply of skilled, mobile and certified tradespeople to meet labour market needs. As the average age of entry to apprenticeship in Canada is 28, it is important to address the barriers that prevent youth from fully participating in the Canadian labour market, including the skilled trades.

 

Measures such as the Apprenticeship Grant help to support apprentices with the challenges they face. Evaluations of programs such as these are conducted every five years in order to monitor performance and results. The latest evaluation of the Apprenticeship Grant indicated that it is a means of offsetting costs for apprentices. Findings from performance measurement exercises help to shape government policy decisions. For example, the introduction in Budget 2018 of the new Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women was based on findings pointing to barriers faced by women in participating and succeeding in apprenticeship and the skilled trades.

 

The Government of Canada also recognizes that employers play a fundamental role in apprenticeship, overseeing 80 to 90 percent of training at the workplace. However, a range of barriers prevent some employers from participating in apprenticeship training, and these barriers can be more difficult for some small businesses. Therefore, in addition to offering a range of individual supports for apprentices, the Government of Canada encourages employers to hire apprentices through the federal Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit.

 

As you may know, the Government collaborates with the provinces and territories through various fora to address labour market issues. For example, the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, which has managed and delivered the Red Seal Program since the 1950s, is a long-standing and successful partnership between the federal government and provinces and territories. In addition, our government is working with provinces and territories through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers to meet its commitment to improve employer engagement in apprenticeship. I would note, as well, that many of our provincial and territorial partners offer complementary supports and incentives to employers to hire apprentices.

 

The Government of Canada will take your views into account as we continue to work to improve the apprenticeship supports available to help support a skilled, mobile and certified skilled trades workforce.

 

Thank you for taking the time to write.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

 

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour


Open Letter to Patty Hadju regarding apprenticeships

December 5, 2018 - Reading time: 10 minutes

Hi,

 

I'm a skilled trades supervisor covering instrumentation, fire systems/sprinkler systems, gas fitters, and liquid petroleum distribution systems for a senior gold producer. I live a few blocks away from your Red River Road office in Thunder Bay.

 

I'm writing concerning the approach the government seems to be taking regarding apprenticeships and skilled trades. A common approach I've seen relating to skilled trades is making apprenticeships more attractive to young people. It might surprise you to learn that I'm disgusted by the idea of additional government incentives to get into the skilled trades. It makes me literally screaming mad!

 

Every one of my younger techs illustrate the problem. Every young skilled tradesperson or apprentice I know got their position by first paying for school and going through college. All of us would have loved to be getting paid to learn our trade, but that was a fantasy unavailable to anyone but the intensely lucky or well-connected. Ultimately, some paid to go through school and got an apprenticeship afterwards.

 

In my case, I paid for room and board in an unfamiliar city for years going to college, in addition to paying for tuition and books. After finishing college, I took the first job I could, at a paper mill in The Pas, Manitoba. The Pas is about 8 hours north of Winnipeg and I didn't have any family anywhere near there. I eventually successfully got my Certified Engineering Technologist certification, and became a red seal Journeyman Instrumentation and Controls Technician through the Trade Qualifier process.

 

For many voluntary trades, the Trade Qualifier process creates nearly as many new Journeypersons each year as the apprenticeship path. Every trade qualifier is an individual who paid their way through college, found a job on their own, worked under a journeyman, and challenged the trade exam. That's a person who wanted an apprenticeship, but couldn't get one and got their certification outside the apprenticeship system. All those people valued the certification so much they paid their own way through, in spite of being ineligible for any of the grants or other rewards provided to apprentices.

 

Among myself and my millennial colleagues, most of us ended up with student debt and at the end of the day some of us still ended up going through the reduced wages of a 4 year apprenticeship.

 

You don't need to gild a golden ticket! We all would have taken apprenticeships if they were available. Lacking opportunities, we all had to make our own.

 

There's a lot of talk out there blaming millennials and the generation after them for the lack of young people in the trades. Obviously young people can't take opportunities that don't exist. That's why the idea of making apprenticeships more enticing for young people is so offensive: These people already won the lottery by getting a rare and precious opportunity. Every apprenticeship will be filled, without question.

 

Some people look at the non completion rate of apprenticeships and see that as a problem. In reality, it's a feature, not a bug. A typical engineering technician, engineering technology, or engineering program will have a high attrition rate because some people discover they aren't cut out for the field they chose. The same is true of apprenticeships; The process needs to allow lots of hiring and lots of attrition until, after 4 years, the tradespeople who are left are the best and brightest.

 

What we need is a 'shotgun approach'. Encourage companies to hire lots of apprentices early on in all trades and keep the cream of the crop. Make sure the opportunities are there, and there will be young people in the trades. If there's no obvious way into the trades for young people, companies are going to continue to see the negative consequences as the workforce ages and retires. Companies are fighting over a shrinking supply of 50 and 60 year old tradespeople. Many of those tradespeople got into the trades through real apprenticeships where companies took a chance on young men and women.

 

Instead of trying to make applying for apprenticeships more appealing for young people, we need to make taking a chance on young apprentices more appealing to companies. Spend whatever we would have on incentives for apprentices on incentives for creating more apprenticeship positions! Until we start creating the next generation of Journeypersons, Canadian industry will continue to struggle to attract the talent they need.

 

Thank you,

 

 

Jason Firth


The Ontario College of Trades is being wound down

October 27, 2018 - Reading time: 3 minutes

I'm Jason Firth.

 

This week, I read about the news that the Ontario College of Trades is being wound down, to be shut down in 2019.

 

As a certified tradesman, I'm a little mixed on this, but mostly I'm happy to see it happen.


In every other province, the government administers voluntary trades, and provides a piece of paper saying you're a certified tradesperson at the end. You pay for the test, you pay for the piece of paper, but then the government is done with the process. You are a journeyman forever. By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades was charging over $100/yr for the privilege of putting your name on a list and sending you a replacement sticker for your piece of paper saying it's still valid for another year.

 

This isn't unprecedented. OACETT and other related associations require an annual payment as well to maintain your certification. However, there's one big difference in my view: Associations of Certified Engineering Technologists and Technicians provide value to the public and value to certified members for the money. I've had opportunities to go to seminars, to participate in really cool activities for National Engineering Month, and more. Also, we vote on our leadership, and get to participate in the rule making process.

 

By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades doesn't provide value to tradespeople. I never got any opportunities from the College, only a bill. There were no chances to improve, no chances to participate (all the important people in the College of Trades were appointees, not elected by the membership).

 

And then there's the public. In theory, the College of Trades is supposed to give the public somewhere to complain about tradespeople who engage in poor workmanship or who violate the college of trades code of ethics. In practice, this never did happen.

 

With hundreds of thousands of members each paying over $100 a year, they had a huge pot of money, but they didn't use it to make the world better. The handful of prosecutions by the college over the years were simply not worth the absurd cost of each one.

 

In my opinion, the world is better off with this legislation removed. Maybe in the future an association for skilled tradespeople can exist. However, it would have to look a lot different than the college of trades.

 

Thanks for Reading!


The path of the Journeyman Instrument Technician

December 13, 2014 - Reading time: 8 minutes

I'm Jason Firth.

 

A few days ago, I wrote about some examples of situations where using unqualified instrument techs caused catastrophic damage and the potential for a massive loss of life.

Today, I'm going to talk a bit about one of the paths a person can take to become a qualified instrument technician.

Centuries ago in Europe, there existed a system of guilds. These were organizations that controlled different skilled crafts and trades. They served two purposes: First, they served the public by ensuring that if a person was doing a trade, they had trained under different master craftsmen and had met a certain level of skill. Second, they served themselves by creating a monopoly in that craft or trade, which allowed them to charge more.

A person who wanted to enter a certain craft or trade would train as an apprentice under a master craftsman without charging a fee for their work, until that person had spent enough time working with their master, after which they would be released from their obligation, and they would become a Journeyman. In the German tradition, a Journeyman would then don the traditional garment, a black suit with a wide brimmed hat, and travel from master to master, learning the trade.

I want to spend a bit more time on this idea, because I find a lot of the aspects of it romantic. Some other journeyman traditions were that a Journeyman would wear a gold earring, to pay the gravedigger if they died. A journeyman would start their journey with 5 gold pieces, and after their journey was complete, they would have the same 5 gold pieces, to signify that the journey was not to become rich, but to learn their trade or craft. About half way through their journey (in terms of years), they would settle in with a master, and a few years after that, they'd begin work on the piece they would present to the guild; their masterpiece. This masterpiece would be the final test that convinces the guild that the journeyman is ready to become a master themselves. At that point, as a master tradesman or craftsman recognised by the guild, they could open their own shop in a town.

Today, some vestiges of that time still exist, but the guilds of antiquity are long disbanded.

Today, apprenticeship programs in Canada are managed by the provinces, each having its own legislation authorising the existence of such programs and describing how the program shall be administered. In addition, the 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade includes provisions for the “Red Seal” program, which allows a journeyman to travel anywhere in the country and maintain their certification freely and automatically.

Because each program is administered by a different body, there are differences in how each program is run, and the terminology used. The two most popular names are "Industrial Instrument Mechanic" and "Instrumentation and Control Technician", although Alberta and the Northwest Territories call the certification "Instrument Technician", and Saskatchewan and Nunavut call their certification "Industrial Instrument Technician".

In most provinces, there are two paths to becoming a journeyman instrument tech.

The first path is called “apprenticeship”. In this path, a worker with no previous experience is hired as an apprentice. This person will learn from and assist the journeymen for 4-5 years. During the process, the journeymen will sign off that an apprentice has reached proficiency with a certain task, out of hundreds included in a book provided to the apprentice. Every year, there is a trade school the apprentice must attend for 10 weeks. The apprentice is often laid off for these 10 weeks, and won't have their normal income during trade school. At the end of these 5 years, the apprentice must write a final trade exam. Depending on the jurisdiction, there can be multiple trade exams: One provincial, and one inter-provincial. (more on this later)

Although theoretically a person off the street may be hired for an apprenticeship, hiring a person for an apprenticeship is a gamble for the company. A company hiring an apprentice risks having spent time and money training an apprentice without getting a journeyman at the end, so they'll hedge their bets. One way they'll do that is hiring a person who already has shown a proficiency with instrumentation, by successfully completing an engineering technician or engineering technology program. Other times, a particularly bright operator at a union plant may get the first shot at an apprenticeship. It's also common for journeyman electricians to apprentice as an instrument technician, since some of the skill sets align.

The second path is called “trade qualification”. In this path, a worker gets hired as an instrument tech through their education (an engineering technology diploma meets the academic requirements) and experience, and works alongside journeymen for 4-5 years. They must get their skill sets signed off by their supervisor. After working for 4-5 years and achieving the appropriate competencies, that person can write the trade exams the same way an apprentice can, and will be granted a full journeyman certification if they pass.

Occasionally, people use the term “interprovincial” and “provincial” with respect to their journeyman certification. Things vary between provinces, but generally there are different standards one must meet to achieve the provincial certification versus the interprovincial certification. In Alberta, for instance, an apprentice writes their provincial test first, then must write the interprovincial test later. In Ontario, for a long time, a person who got one score on their interprovincial exam (say, a 60%) was granted a provincial certification, but if they got another score (say, a 70%), they were granted an interprovincial certification.

There's a variety of different categories of skills that an instrument tech must have to achieve journeyman certification.

Common Occupational Skills

Understanding of legislation and workplace standards in the workplace, including, but not limited to worker safety legislation, WHIMIS, PPE and lockout/tagout.

Process Measuring And Indicating Devices

There's a huge number of instruments out there that a journeyman must understand and be capable of installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting. In addition, there are certain documentation and calibration standards which must be met to consider a calibration or validation valid, and certain tools a journeyman must have to assist in troubleshooting. When comparing similar trades, it's this scope that differentiates the instrument tech while working on instrumentation.

Safety And Security Systems And Devices

There's a huge number of safety related instruments out there that a journeyman must understand and be capable of installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting. In addition, there are certain documentation and calibration standards which must be met to consider a calibration or validation valid, and certain tools a journeyman must have to assist in troubleshooting.

Hydraulic, Pneumatic And Electrical Systems

One class that every instrument tech must take in trade school that no electrician will need to take is fluid mechanics. There are certain theories that must be understood for hydraulic and pneumatic systems to make sense. Pneumatics in particular may be a huge element of instrumentation -- You might have an entire plant running on pneumatic controls, and an instrument tech must be capable of working on all of it. In addition, there's the need to know electrical and electronic systems.

Final Control Devices

All the measurement in the world is meaningless if you can't control something with that measurement. Instrument techs must intimately understand valves, actuators, positioners, variable speed drives, and all the various components that connecting them together. Fail safety is a critical part of this.

Communication Systems And Devices

Communication is a growing facet of instrumentation. Techs today need to understand control network systems and devices, signal converters, gateways, bridges, switches, and media converters. Recently the ISA asked: "Is instrumentation evolving into IT?". I don't think it is, because of all the other things that are involved, but the question is relevant considering the increased knowledge of IT required.

Control Systems And Process Control

This covers a wide scope, from discrete PID controllers, to PLCs, PACs and DCSes, to loop modelling and control fundamentals. There's a number of different tools an instrument tech needs to understand, from feed forward and cascade loops, to ratio loops, to the different standards for tagging and description to ensure the next guy understands what you've set up.

There's a lot to learn, and with all these areas of expertise comes a huge responsibility.

 

Thanks for reading!

Trade National Occupational Analysis - Instrumentation and Controls Technician