The 1970s apprenticeship system the industry currently uses is outdated and needs to be reconfigured for upcoming generations, says Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA) chair Joe Vaccaro.
The OSTA recently released a new report that calls for a modern approach to skills and apprenticeship training to keep up with technology and equip tradespeople for the jobs of the future.
The report entitled An Apprenticeship Skills Agenda, by Maxim Jean-Louis, president of Contact North, was commissioned by the OSTA and was based on feedback from construction leaders across Ontario. The study found that conventional approaches to skills and apprenticeship training need to be modernized, especially since 65 per cent of elementary school students are going to end up going into careers that don't exist yet.
"We need to get with the times. We need to recognize that the skilled trades job market is changing and we need a much more dynamic and modern apprenticeship system that focuses on the apprentice, focuses on competency and attaining the skills, versus time in the classroom," said Vaccaro. "We think if you move to that model, you end up with apprentices who are motivated to get through their competency sets quicker. You end up with employers who are motivated to bring them along that process quicker and ultimately what you end up with is a higher completion rate."
The report makes a number of recommendations to modernize skills training including, flexible, competency-based certification and ending the focus on time, ratios, compulsory and voluntary certification, which is a system that is too rigid and confusing for many apprentices to navigate and complete.
The report also states that students should dedicate 20 hours of community work to mastering trades and practical skills. Training should include a lifelong learning requirement for tradespeople to keep skills current and creative online learning with 24 hour assessment would appeal to a tech savvy generation and get skilled trades in the workforce sooner.
Currently, fewer than half of apprentices complete their training, explained Vaccaro. The problem, he said, is the outdated system is not focused on the apprentice.
"They (apprentices) either don't feel that the apprenticeship is engaging them in a learning way because it is so time-based versus skill-based so they are disinterested in completing it," said Vaccaro.
"The second part is they get to a stage in their apprenticeship where they are earning a good dollar as a second year or third year and they don't see the value in going back to a classroom and losing their wage opportunities to complete their trade ticket. In both ways where we end up is with students who are unmotivated to finish their apprenticeship training."
He suggested adopting the European model would be beneficial for all parties.
"It serves not just to motivate those students to get through the system, it also builds a whole structure in place where getting to the finish line is much more rewarding, it's more individualized," said Vaccaro. "If we're looking at the European model, a modern model, we're looking at a competency-based system and that means when that new job comes forward, and the skills required to be certified in that field are competency-based, you can turn that over in the marketplace quickly. You can get people trained for the jobs of the future."
The key is to create an effective training system to better prepare people for those jobs. It starts with changing the mindset around training and focusing on outcomes rather than the system itself.
"When you think about the changing job market, if we're looking at a wave of new jobs that have yet even to be defined or created, then we need a training system that can be adaptive and dynamic and build in those new opportunities," said Vaccaro, citing the example of a drone operator, a position that did not exist a few years ago.
"The only way to get into that kind of environment is to work on a competency-based system, because if we stay with this time-based system it doesn't actually serve to train people for the jobs when they are available."
The government has launched a consultation process focused on the apprentice and better completion rates, Vaccaro explained.
In terms of next steps, Vaccaro said the OSTA will engage with government and provide them with the data the report assembled as well as share suggestions and recommendations.
"We also want to go out there to find like-minded people, employers, organizations, training delivery agencies, who can appreciate that making a move into a competency-based model will benefit everyone involved," said Vaccaro.