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Industry split over minimal ratio reductions


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June 20, 2014 by On-Site Magazine

The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT)—a lighting rod for both criticism and praise since it’s inception in April 2013—recently implemented a controversial panel decision to amend journeyperson to apprentice ratios for 15 of Ontario’s 33 regulated trades.

For some, the revised ratios were a welcome sign of opportunity for budding apprentices, as 14 ratios in the construction sector were reduced (see below). For others, the ratio reductions didn’t go far enough, and the haphazard review process only fueled their ire towards an institution they say is rife with problems.

The ratio review process, which began in 2012 and wrapped up in 2013, was designed to bring all ratios under one regulation (O.Reg.104/14), standardize the way ratios are expressed, and implement the remaining 2013 Ratio Review Panel decisions to change ratios. The ratios for cement (concrete) finisher and floor covering installer were previously set out in a separate regulation in April 2013.

“In less than a year since opening its doors, the College has completed a comprehensive review of all 33 regulated ratios through an independent and public process—which never happened before in Ontario,” said Matt Moir, spokesperson for OCOT. “This review was conducted by an independent review panel. All of the review panels are chaired by a vice chairperson from the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Other panel members are chosen from a roster of adjudicators.”

Moir added the review process is transparent and evidence based, and looks at, among other things, the economic impact of the ratio and the health and safety of the apprentice. There is also an open call for submissions, which then get posted on the College’s website, followed by an oral hearing.

Gail Smyth, executive director of Skills Canada-Ontario, welcomed the panel’s review of the regulated ratios and the process by which it arrived at the revised numbers. According to Smyth, the new ratios are a win-win for apprentices and small construction businesses.

“The 14 ratios that went down were all in the construction industry, which I believe is good news for small businesses in this industry as it creates more opportunities to hire apprentices. It is also good news for apprentices because it creates more opportunities for training,” she said.

Pierre Trudel, purchaser at Oxford Plumbing Inc., said the reduced plumbing ratios, which decreased from 3:1 to 2:1 (journeyperson to apprentice), mean more opportunity for apprentices looking to get a foot in the door. “The ratio changes are better for the kids because we can hire more. Before, if you had 10 plumbers on staff you could only have three apprentices. Now you can have five,” he said.

However, not everyone is in agreement with how the review process was done, nor that the ratio reductions ratios went far enough. “We are really concerned about the credibility of the decisions that are being made with the process that the College currently has in place,” said Karen Renkema, chairwoman of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance.

Renkema also heads up the Stop The Trades Tax campaign, which seeks to stop the Ontario Liberal government’s “job-killing trades tax.” The “trades tax” took effect on April 8, 2013, the day OCOT came into existence. Skilled tradespeople in Ontario must now register with the College and pay annual fees, ranging from $60 for apprentices to $120 for journeyperson. According to OCOT’s website: “Failure to pay membership fees may result in the suspension of a member’s certificate of qualification or statement of membership.”

A strong critic of OCOT for many reasons, Renkema argues that during the ratio review process many big decisions were made by only looking at as little as two of the nine criteria set out in the review regulation. “Many of the review panels and the review panel chairs were clear in that they were concerned there was not enough evidence being given to them to make such large decisions, such as ratios,” she claims. “What’s happening is we’re making very, very critical decisions on little to no evidence, and a lot of anecdotal evidence is being brought forward, but not a lot of empirical, fair, decision-driving type of evidence that you would feel is actually credible.”

Renkema notes the provinces that are attracting more skilled trades workers have lower ratios than Ontario. “Most provinces are moving to a 1:1 ratio across the board, and in Ontario we’re steeped in some very archaic ratios that only minimally changed through this process,” she said.

Sean Reid, vice-president, federal and Ontario, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, also voiced strong concern for the review process, which he said was flawed and only produced marginal results at best—especially in the compulsory trades.

“The main thing we observed was that they changed the criteria half way through the reviews. Essentially they started weighting different criteria more heavily than others and decisions that were made early on were based on one set of principles, while decisions made later on were based on another,” he said. “Most of it was rooted in very weak research and evidence. Many times the decisions were left up to the ‘intuition’ of the panelists. And that’s problematic.”

Reid is also worried that OCOT is applying the same methods it used to review ratios to the process for reviewing compulsory certifications. “We don’t want anymore reviews of compulsory certifications,” he said, because they will likely shut the door to more apprentices at a time when the province is already facing a shortage. “The Ontario College of Trades is a deeply flawed institution. It needs to be abolished. We need to find new ways to bring down the regulatory barriers—not put new ones up—and promote the skilled trades.”

With the construction industry mired in a period of unprecedented worker shortages, promoting the skilled trades while finding a balance between what contractors believe is fair and productive will be a significant challenge for the College as it works through its growing pains and strives to become a viable institution for positive change.

The 14 reduced ratios:

  • Brick and stonemason
  • Cement (concrete) finisher
  • Construction millwright
  • Electrician – construction and maintenance
  • Electrician – domestic and rural
  • General carpenter
  • Plumber
  • Refrigeration and air conditioning systems mechanic
  • Residential air conditioning systems mechanic
  • Restoration mason
  • Roofer
  • Sheet metal worker
  • Steamfitter
  • Terrazzo, tile and marble setter

For all ratios visit www.collegeoftrades.ca/about/review-panels/ratioreviews.

FACT!

There are 156 trades in Ontario; 22 are compulsory (must be a journeyperson or registered apprentice) and 134 are voluntary. Of the 156 trades, 33 have regulated journeyperson to apprentice ratios, which vary based on the job.


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