What's Happening with Apprenticeships This Year?
This report is designed to provide the reader with key input and potential initiatives to help design and implement trades training for business and industry in Cornwall and the surrounding area.
After several initial meetings held earlier this year, it was identified that there is a severe lack of skilled trades persons in Cornwall and the surrounding counties. Discussions between employers took place at several meetings on how best to address this issue. Volunteers were needed to get the project off the ground and a task force was formed.
The data provided in this report is based on telephone conversations with employers regarding their present and specific needs for trades' people in their industry. Opinions were sought and direct questions asked in order to get a better understanding of what employers really need in order to maintain their viability in today's economy.
Goals & Objectives
The ultimate goal of the project was to provide a list of employers in the Cornwall and surrounding area who are interested in sponsoring current employees for specific trades training. Specifically, the Industrial Mechanic Millwright, the Industrial Instrumentation and/or Welding were the courses mentioned to employers. Employers were asked if other trades courses were required specific to their industry and it was noted. The main stakeholders in this project are:
- Eastern Ontario Training Board (sponsor)
- Ministry of Education & Training
- St. Lawrence College
- Trades Task Force
The specific objective was to provide the stakeholders with an intuitive and personal look at what employers require "to get the job done". All discussions with employers were given the highest regard for confidentiality, and discretion was of the utmost importance. Some employers were provided with a background picture of the project, information concerning the Trades Task Force and why it came about, and some employers were very much aware of the project and were pleased that there was going to be a continuation to the project.
To meet the needs of all stakeholders, much more work must be done. Although it was identified that there is a need for skilled workers in this area to ensure companies thrive in a competitive marketplace, employers still expect those "fully skilled" workers to come knocking on their door. Some employers were quite blatant about the fact that they will continue to "steal" the most qualified workers from other workplaces no matter the cost. Much more education and community awareness is needed in order to ensure the process continues.
In order to obtain the deliverables in this project, an action plan was required. A survey was designed detailing the basic information required to obtain the main goal of the project: employees (students) for trades training.
- Questions were designed to obtain specific information from employers regarding their current requirements, their requirements over the next two years, both in respect to trades personnel.
- Secondly, they were asked if they had an employee currently on payroll that they wished to sponsor for specific trades training, names were expected to be given so that follow up with the employer could be made and the person specifically identified.
- Format of training was of utmost importance to ALL employers, even before the question was asked. Timing is everything. Options given were 1 8-hour day release, 2 evenings per week or the 8-week block course.
- Employers were then questioned on the aspect of hiring individuals who were currently being considered for employment but may require specific trade training. If so, identify those individuals.
- As timing is everything, they were then asked for the specific time of year that was preferred: 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th quarter.
- One question that was asked was in respect to the format of training. The eight-week block is the one most preferred by the College, so they were asked if this was the only format offered would they still sponsor the employee?
- Once this question was identified, a further explanation was given in respect to the 8-week block course. Filing for Employment Insurance would be necessary and then the employee receives benefits at a rate of 55% of gross earnings after the 2-week waiting period has been met. They were then asked if they would be willing to Ã‚â€œtop-upÃ‚â€ to the allowed 95% of gross earnings in order to alleviate and financial hardship to the employee during the course.
- Another question was that of their current requirements for any positions open within their facility.
- And finally, how can the EOTB in conjunction with SLC be of further assistance to the employers.
A meeting with Paul Beauregard and Laurier Roy from Apprenticeship Branch, provided detailed information regarding the trades training. Their personal insight into the project and candid account of the meetings held earlier with employers provided a broader, more intuitive perspective. The information they provided regarding the apprenticeship program and the intricacies of it provided the background information used to answer questions from interested employers.
- The survey was conducted with 52 companies in and around the Cornwall area.
Most companies contacted were quite receptive to answering questions. Some felt that there has been a lot of talk about the issue but have seen very little serious action taking place. Assurances were given that the EOTB in conjunction with SLC were now taking the steps to ensure the apprenticeship program gets off the ground. Employers were also reminded at this point that without their participation in the program and assurances that they will cooperate by providing students to the program, it would not get done.
The survey results provide base line information from employers on what their current and future requirements are for specific trades training.
Of the companies interested in sponsoring the training, the preferred format is the 8-hour day release. All but one company preferred this format as opposed to the other two formats mentioned. Generally speaking, employers felt that this allowed them the flexibility to schedule work requirements and it also allowed the employee time to practice what they learned back on the job. Production is always an issue and the 8-week block program would cause too many production problems and delays.
Timing for scheduling the course was considered to be of great importance to most employers. Most employers, (80%) indicated 1st quarter (Jan-Mar) as the best time, 10% indicated that it didn't matter and the other 10% stated 3rd quarter.
Of the eight employers willing to sponsor employees for the 1st yr IMM program, only three were willing to allow employees to enrol in the 8-week block program but it was contingent on production requirements. The overall impression of the 8-week block program was negative. Too many contingencies, too long of period to be without a maintenance person, would seriously have to "re-think" the demands of the maintenance department before agreeing to the training.
The question regarding "topping-up" employees EI benefits to the allowed 95% of earnings was only asked if the employer indicated a willingness to allow employees time off to attend the 8-week block program. All employers responded in the positive and were more than happy to assist employees during the course so that there would be no financial hardship.
Although the focus of this project was to find enough employers to sponsor employees to enrol in the Industrial Mechanic Millwright course, some employers indicated that there were other trades or training courses that they would be interested in sending employees to should the college provide the courses. Those courses were as follows:
- Electronic Test Technician
- Welder / Fitters / Fabricators
- Industrial Electronic Instrumentation (PLCs)
- Steam Fitters
- Mig Welding
- Certification Training (health & safety)
As indicated previously, the survey was held in the strictest of confidence. Employers were asked to speak freely and indicate any positive or negative comments towards the apprenticeship program in general or the course specifically. As some employers knew nothing about the program, others had been involved in the preliminary meetings and others were aware but did not have an interest in the program, statistics would not do this part of the project justice.
Although the apprenticeship program has been around for some time, some employers were still unaware of how the program worked, where they could get information about apprenticeships, who was the contact and when could they get started. At this point, all employers were given some background information concerning the program and the names of whom to contact for further information.
Employers spoke to current employees to ask if they would be interested in taking courses to further their own knowledge base and some indicated they were not interested in going back to school. They were middle age and did not see the need, they liked where and what they were doing now. Some indicated that they had been enrolled in the program at SLC for the Welding course but had dropped out for varying reasons; the course was not meeting their needs or were learning more back on the job working with lead hands in the shop.
One employer indicated that he had gone through the 3rd yr of the Industrial Millwright program at St. Lawrence College and found it somewhat lacking in respect to the instructor and facilities. He had gone to George Brown in Toronto for the first two years of his IMM program and was very pleased with all aspects of the course. If the IMM program here in Cornwall was only going to run in the 8-week block format, he would enrol his employee at George Brown College for this course.
Other comments regarding the quality of licensed millwrights today was mentioned by more than one employer. Some employers perform basic pre-screening skill testing for potential hires and licensed trades persons were found lacking in the basic elements of their trade. When queried on how this could happen it was stated that the apprentice shadows or follows with the same licensed trades person for the program and "who really wants to fail a co-worker". This is an area where improvement must be made in order to ensure we get qualified and certified trades persons.
Employers were again reminded that the purpose of an Apprenticeship Program is this: learn the basic skills of a trade in theory, and some practical, and take that learning back to the job and apply it.
The following is a list of recommendations to all stakeholders concerned in the project. The viewpoint is subjective and in the opinion of the consultant only.
- Educate employers on what is an "Apprenticeship Program". Although some are fully aware of the program, they seem to have forgotten that there is a long learning curve involved. Time is required and no one course is going to provide them with everything they need.
- Educate workers. Change is inevitable. Provide workshops on what an apprenticeship program is, what's involved, what are the benefits to both them and their employer. No matter the age, they must buy into the concept that they will benefit from learning. How you get workers to come out to workshops will be a challenge but the benefits will far out way the costs.
- Centralize learning facilities for the three SLC campuses. Invest in the future. As this was the biggest complaint from employers it must be heard. Antiquated equipment will not ensure that our trades' persons are coming out fully knowledgeable.
- Involve all school boards in the 5 United Counties. They too should be an integral part of the future worker. If the investment is to be made for a centralized facility to deal with the proper training of our future trades persons, then allow the school boards to take an active roll in sponsoring this endeavour.
- With the elimination of Grade 13, consider a full year of trades training at a facility designed to meet the needs of all stakeholders. With the input of the Ministry of Education & Training, all School Boards, St. Lawrence College and the EOTB, develop a one-year trades curriculum that would jump-start the apprenticeship program. A full year devoted to a trade may be the equivalent of 2-3 years apprenticing. Some high school students are not quite ready to make the decision to go to college or university, this option may be way for them to get a feel for trade work and still allow them the feeling of being in "high" school. Some may even view it as "college" and are ready to make the life long commitment of making a career for themselves. Perception is individually based.
- With the input of seasoned trades persons, develop courses that will ensure the training meets the needs of employers. Also, allow employers who specifically have a vested interest in the quality of students to have input into course development to ensure that they have read and approved the course curriculum.
- Have more than one individual involved in the apprenticeship program for signing purposes. This allows more "eyes" to follow the progress of the apprentice. A complaint regarding individuals passing to the next level without fully meeting the expectations of the course was identified. No one individual was interested in failing a co-worker.
- Ensure the quality of instructors, trainers or facilitators is of the highest standard. Theory is one thing but special guest speakers or instructors to come to the classroom and work with the apprentices may be an option. Hands-on practical theory with an expert is an area worthy of investigation. Know your students, some individuals are visual learners and all the theory in the world won't get the message across.
The Eastern Ontario Training Board takes this opportunity to thank all of the employers involved in this research and we would also like to thank our partners as listed earlier in the document. Last but not least, we take this opportunity to thank Human Resources Development Canada and Ministry of Training Colleges and University for their support.
If you want to discuss this report or make comments or receive additional information, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at email@example.com or call (613 932 0210.