In his April 10 critique of my report, “Dawson report on trade apprenticeship has objectionable findings, says Dillon”, Patrick Dillon asserts that our study did not consult workers and employers who rely on compulsory certification and traditional apprenticeship training mechanisms. This is not correct.
We interviewed stakeholders from across the trades. Their main message on certification is that in certain limited circumstances, where high risk factors have been proven by evidence and there is no more effective alternative available, then compulsory certification is warranted.
The employer associations represented in our report are adamant that health and safety issues remain a top priority. The sharp reduction in WSIB lost time injuries in the construction industry over the last decade is a testament to this.
The Institute for Work and Health has even gone so far as to attribute decreasing workplace injuries in large part to employers re-investing in health and safety training and technologies.
Employers in the construction industry understand the critical importance of providing safe, high quality construction to Ontarians. Our report does not recommend eliminating compulsory certification; just that classification result from evidence-based standards and transparent risk assessment models.
On the issue of apprenticeship, we did not encounter any stakeholders who thought it was a good idea that Ontario maintain the highest journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio requirements in Canada, especially during a period of acute skills shortage. However, our mandate for this report was not opinion polling.
As economists and policy analysts, our objective was to find credible data with which to evaluate the likely effects of Ontario's skilled trades regulatory regime.
Our research showed that the skills shortage in Ontario's construction sector is the highest in Canada and low wages are not to blame. Controlling for age and experience, we found a skilled worker shortfall in the Ontario construction industry that was about 15 per cent higher than the rest of Canada.
The biggest contributor to the shortage is the aging workforce. The average age of a carpenter in Ontario is 61 years old and most tower crane operators are within 10 years of retirement.
Ontario is expected to need several hundred more tower crane operators by 2020 but there is only one government-approved training centre and it graduates about 30 new operators a year.
These are the kinds of barriers that are hurting Ontario's economic future.
Where are the young people? Ontario has some of the highest ratios of journeypersons to apprentices in the country.
This means that before an Ontario construction company can hire a single apprentice, it must have three licensed carpenters available to supervise. (There is no common standard across provinces. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, one journeyperson can supervise two apprentices. British Columbia has no fixed ratios).
High ratio requirements mean that Ontario is not maximizing opportunities for young people in the construction industry. As a result, even Nunavut has higher apprenticeship completion rates than Ontario's. Such barriers to entry are particularly hard on small businesses and rural communities.
We were surprised that in a comprehensive analysis of similar markets and sectors we could find no evidence linking compulsory certification to improved health, safety or quality outcomes.
In Quebec, for example, all trades are subject to compulsory certification, but the province has workplace accident rates that are much higher than the national average.
Mr. Dillon characterizes our report as stating that compulsory certified wage rates are too high. This is also incorrect. While we point out that the added burdens of certification and training chokepoints will create higher costs for workers, employers and taxpayers, we make no claims about what wage rates ought to be.
We do note, however, that if Ontario adopted the same polices as Quebec, it would cost our province about $75 million.
Despite the errors in interpretation, I am pleased that the report has generated interest from the construction industry.
The issues we raise are important to all Ontarians. The fact that the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) is under review by Tony Dean demonstrates the need for adjustments to OCOT decision-making.
Our report argues that future decisions must be based on objective facts gathered through transparent practices, not subjective 'intuition' that more regulation is always better.
Decisions about compulsory certification and journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios must be held to a more rigorous standard of evaluation than they have been in the past. The future of the trades depends on it.
Laura Dawson, PhD is the president of Dawson Strategic and the author of Modernizing Ontario's Skilled Trades Apprenticeship and Training System: Building New Opportunities Through Governance and Regulatory Reform.
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