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College of Trades set to open in 2013

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October 1, 2012 by Andrew Snook

From teachers and veterinarians to doctors and dentists, the Province of Ontario has a wide variety of professionals that use colleges to regulate and govern their industries. Many of these colleges encountered some degree of resistance when starting up, and the latest proposed college is no exception.

Representatives for the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) have stated that the college will act as a voice for attracting young
people to the skilled trades and act as a self-governing and regulating body for more than 500,000 skilled tradespeople in 157 skilled trades across Ontario. 

Within the 157 skilled trades, there are 22 compulsory trades that have mandatory fees individual workers and companies will have to pay. The proposed annual membership fees range from $50-$100 for an apprentice or tradesworker (compulsory and
voluntary); $100-$200 for a journeyperson; $100-$200 for a small business (zero to five trades employees); $200-$400 for a medium business (six to 50 trades employees) and $400-$600 for a large business (more than 50 trades employees).

The OCOT has received a great deal of criticism over recent months, and has been called an “$84-million tax grab” by the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition, which has questioned the college’s ability to regulate the skilled trades while acting as a voice to attract more young skilled tradespeople. The coalition against the OCOT is comprised of more than 3,000 construction employers that employ over 85,000 tradespeople across Ontario.

“The number of organizations, the number of people we represent, this is not some small group of disgruntled people who aren’t educated and knowledgeable on this topic,” said Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), one of the largest members of the coalition. “This is a huge groundswell of discontent and opposition to what we see as nothing but an out-an-out tax grab.”

Ron Johnson, chair of the OCOT, dismissed the coalition’s claims that the college’s mandatory fees were a tax and would add up to $84 million.

“Quite frankly it’s an absolute mistruth,” Johnson said. “We have a $17-million to $21-million budget for 2013… once we get through our first fiscal year and we have our audited financial statements available, they’re going to look stupid.”

Johnson also said the fees are not a tax since they are revenue collected by the OCOT for the operation of the college, not unlike the other 44 regulatory bodies across Ontario. 

“We are not government, we are outside of government and we are independent of government,” said Johnson.

Sean Reid, chair of the coalition, said the college would be bringing in at least $84-million in revenue, when it compulsory certifies more trades across the province.

Johnson said the college does not have the power to make more trades compulsory or non-compulsory. He said those decisions will be made through advisory panels comprised of rosters of adjudicators that will listen to evidence from those who want their trade to become compulsory/non-compulsory; however, Reid said some of those advisory panels are made up of representatives within the construction industry that want more trades to become compulsory.

“There is no doubt that we will have far more trades compulsory if the college gets its way,” said Reid.

Johnson said the college is also committed to enforcing training standards and certification standards in the compulsory trades
sector outlined in the Ontario College of Trades Act.

“We are going to have a very vigorous and strong enforcement component in terms of the compulsory trades side,” he said. “It is very important that contractors know that when they are bidding on work, they are doing so against other legitimate contractors.”   

Reid said it is hard to fathom how the college could act as a legitimate enforcement tool within the skilled trades. He used the example of hairstylists, one of the 22 compulsory trades, as an
example of why enforcement is an unrealistic goal.

“Are they going to have people going around and looking at everybody’s haircut? So if I complain and say I got a bad haircut and I go complain to the college are they going to come and say, ‘You know what, you really did get a bad haircut.” 

The coalition was also critical of the college’s ability to attract more young people to the skilled trades and referred to it as a barrier instead of beneficial.

“It’s attaching new fees in order to come into our industry, it’s attaching new regulations through compulsory certification and high ratios,” Reid said. “It’s turning us in precisely the opposite direction from where we want to be going if we want to truly be more open to new and young tradespeople in this industry.”

Johnson countered, saying that attracting young people to the trades is the college’s “biggest mandate.”

“I think what we need to do is refocus our ability to attract young people to the skilled trades,” he said. “Convince them of the benefits of skilled trades; convince their parents of the benefits of skilled trades—as well as teachers and guidance counsellors—so it becomes a career of first choice instead of a career of last resort, which is what it has become now.”

Whether skilled trades organizations like it or not, the college’s doors are set to open in 2013. Will the college act as a strong voice for the industry with sharp regulatory teeth? Or will it falter, leaving skilled tradespeople frustrated with mandatory fees that provide little or no value? Come 2013, both sides will find out if this dog has both bark and bite. 

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