April 13, 2019 by David Kennedy
TORONTO—The scarcity of skilled workers across Ontario is no secret. Construction employers, among others, often face a serious challenge finding tradespersons to fill roles, resulting in project delays and higher costs.
The 2019 Ontario budget, the first released under Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, is taking aim at the issue, promising a modernized apprenticeship and skilled trades system that better matches the needs of industry.
Vic Fedeli, the province’s minister of Finance, introduced the new budget at Queen’s Park April 11. Several years of lessening red ink, looser alcohol rules and constraints on spending growth are among the other highlights.
From a skilled trades perspective, the government is laying the groundwork for a number of changes, though it did not move too far into specifics. Foremost among them, the PCs plan to establish a new governance framework to replace the Ontario College of Trades. It passed legislation to wind down the regulatory body last fall.
Alongside building this new framework, the province said it will create a financial incentive system to support employers training apprentices, as well as develop a digital portal to help connect apprentices with job opportunities. The budget commitment also includes what the government described as a “flexible framework” for workers that may want partial training in one trade and full certification in another.
The Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), which represents organizations that employ more than 100,000 skilled workers in Ontario, including numerous construction associations, commended the plan.
“We are thrilled that the government has recognized the need for truly transformative changes to the apprenticeship and skilled trades system,” said Patrick McManus, OSTA’s chair, said in a statement. “For years, employers have been calling for an overhaul of how apprenticeships, training, and skills promotion are managed in Ontario.”
McManus added that the budget will help skilled workers stay in step with the evolving needs of different industries and the overall economy.
Within schools, the government also plans to establish a program that steers students from kindergarten to Grade 12 toward the trades — a long-time point of contention for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).
“For too long, Ontario students have been told that a skilled trades job is a dirty, dead-end job,” said Sean Reid, PCA’s vice-president and regional director for Ontario “The Ford government should be commended for taking steps to end this stigma, and cultivate a true parity of esteem for the trades alongside other career paths within our school system.”