“We’re finally bringing the skilled trades into the 21st century.”
That’s how Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton described the impact of the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act being passed Wednesday at Queen’s Park.
The legislation – introduced early last month – paves the way for the creation of a new Crown agency, Skilled Trades Ontario, which McNaughton said will be up and running by the end of the year.
The new agency will replace the Ontario College of Trades to streamline the apprenticeship system, making it easier for people – especially young people – enter the skilled trades by providing a single-access digital portal to navigate a once-confusing arrangement.
This single online destination will replace a confusing and meandering system that requires apprentices to register with the ministry, obtain a log book from the college of trades, schedule classroom training, book and write ministry exams while paying fees to the college, and advise the ministry of their progress and completion while receiving exam results from the college.
“Skilled Trades Ontario is going to be a game-changer. It’s going to literally set up an apprenticeship system in Ontario to ensure young people are set up for a lifetime of success.”
McNaughton said this is key to growing the economy since Ontario is facing an ongoing shortage of skilled workers – a lack that could grow to the hundreds of thousands over the next 10 years since one in three experienced tradespeople is older than 55.
Today, one in 10 factories is looking for skilled tradespeople while, in construction, the province expects 100,000 skilled workers will be needed over the next decade, McNaughton said.
“Every employer I talked to, they’re desperate for skilled workers.”
McNaughton pointed to a number of infrastructure projects in the Southwestern Ontario region – from building and refurbishing long-term care homes to new natural gas lines to bridge and road work – that all demand skilled workers.
“If we want these projects to be done on time and on budget, we need to ensure we have enough people in the skilled trades to do these jobs,” he said. “I’m focusing all the reforms, when it comes the skilled trades, around three pillars – ending the stigma, simplifying the apprenticeship system and encouraging employers to bring on apprentices.”
McNaughton said he’s proud of the legislation because it involved bringing industry, labour unions, workers and associations together.
“There’s broad support for the action that we’re taking.”
The minister’s plans to encourage young people to pursue a career in the skilled trades remains a priority. Barring any impact from the pandemic, McNaughton said recruiters will be going into high schools across Ontario to speak with Grade 9 and 10 students about the more than 140 different skilled trades and how they can become apprentices.
“Our goal is to have recruiters in schools, starting in September, competing head on with universities to talk about the great opportunities in the trades,” he said.
McNaughton said young people need to know rewarding careers with six-figure incomes that often include pensions and benefits are available in the skilled trades.
“These are great pay cheques, ready to be collected … and my mission is to ensure that we have a skilled workforce for the future,” he said.