Better Pay and Benefits

Three simple things Canada can do to boost low apprenticeship numbers

October 29, 2015

This week Statistics Canada released new apprenticeship numbers showing marginal improvement. Total registrations have been slowly trending upwards in recent years and that the level of new registrations has returned to where it was before the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Total certification numbers have also increased recently. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that when you look at the big picture, apprentices still only account for about 2.2 percent of the labour force in Canada—well below many of our international competitors.

Then there’s the overall certification rate: the number of apprentices who complete a program that certifies them to work in their field. Research shows a clear connection between apprenticeship certification and higher job security, wages, safety, and productivity. Canada’s certification rates remain stuck at about 50 percent, which is far below other comparator countries such as France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, England, and Ireland.

Finally, while the situation has improved very slightly, women continue to be significantly underrepresented among apprentices and skilled tradespeople. In the latest figures, women represented only 15 percent of registered apprentices; in some trades, men made up almost all of the registrations in the group.

Clearly, Canada has a lot more work to do to recruit more people to apprenticeships, especially women, Aboriginal and Indigenous workers, racialized workers, and workers with disabilities.

And it is imperative that Canada find a way to start bending the needle on certification rates.

The federal government can take three steps, which are easy, affordable, and would make a big difference for apprenticeship rates:

  1. Invest in more and better labour market information. All stakeholders need good information in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, these latest figures released by Statistics Canada are for 2013.
  2. Create a national labour market partners forum to facilitate ongoing dialogue, cooperation and coordination between stakeholders—governments, unions, employers, educators, and trainers. The reality is no single player can address the country’s skill needs on their own. All stakeholders must be part of the solution.
  3. Ensure that all federal infrastructure projects mandate employers to hire and train apprentices. The voluntary approach is not working. We need to require employers to put more skin in the game.
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