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