Expediting Skills Training in Atlantic Canada

The Atlantic Provinces are taking the lead in addressing an issue that the whole country currently faces. Canada’s shortage of skilled labours, especially in provinces undergoing major infrastructural projects and natural resource development, such as Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, is the result of various contributing factors. Each year, for instance, an increasing number of young adults enter post-secondary institutions and are not, therefore, capable of satisfying the country’s demand for skilled labour. In addition, Canada’s populating is ageing and many workers are leaving the labour force. However, the Atlantic Canadian provinces are adopting policies that are favourable toward the expansion of Canada’s resource industry in the coming years and a uniform apprenticeship program is part of the region’s solution.

In January, New Brunswick’s (NB) Premier David Alward announced the harmonization of provincial apprenticeship programs in NB, Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), Nova Scotia (NS), and Prince Edward Island (PEI), which would encourage trainees to stay in the Atlantic region after completing their programs. Combining the provincial programs is an arduous task that will require a lot of effort, however, the federal government has committed $4.3 million toward the project and each province will allocate an additional $3.5 million in staff time and operational support to buttress the initiative. Initially, the provinces will harmonize apprenticeship programs pertaining to bricklayers, cooks, construction workers, electricians, and instrumentation and control technicians, although the remaining trades will be included shortly thereafter.

Unifying apprenticeship requirements affords greater flexibility to trainees in terms of where they study and complete the hours required to satisfy their program requirements. It also provides an opportunity to move freely throughout the Atlantic region in order to find employment, a benefit to not only those accumulating apprenticeship hours, but also those who hire them.

Currently there are 13 different apprenticeship programs in Canada. While these programs are comparable, they impose restrictions that hinder individuals from taking advantage of work opportunities in regions outside of where they studied. Many apprentices who travel for work experience find difficultly trying to obtain credit for the hours worked outside of their province and, as a result, it often takes them longer to complete their requirements. Creating a consistent and mobile system will, therefore, allow for an efficient allocation of labour and faster completion of training programs.

These changes streamline the apprenticeship process, allowing skilled labourers to train more efficiently and the results will likely be positive. There has already been significant movement toward streamlining provincial certifications and the region’s new focus is on removing barriers for those in the process of obtaining them. As a result, young adults interested in pursuing the trades will be more likely to enrol in local training courses. Furthermore, knowing that there are opportunities available in Atlantic Canada will persuade these individuals to stay in the region. A faster and more secure route to completing a skilled trade certification will also aide the current apprentice-journeyman ratio issue. With fewer delays due to finding apprenticeships, individuals can move through the system faster and become journeymen for the continuing inflow of training labourers.

If harmonizing provincial apprenticeship programs proves successful in Atlantic Canada, the country’s remaining provinces should consider similar initiatives. Canada could also benefit from streamlining these programs nationally where they are not already.

Atlantic Canada has begun the process of creating an infrastructure for training new skilled labourers that benefits employees, employers, and the economy. Aligning apprenticeship programs has the potential to address Canada’s skilled labour shortage in an effective and efficient manner and as these changes unfold in Atlantic Canada, it will be unsurprising to see their successes mirrored at the national level.

Rachel Lowe is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute

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