Institute favours keeping the Ontario College of Trades, for now
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has recently pledged his intention of abolishing the Ontario College of Trades if he becomes premier. The college, created just one year ago, is responsible for regulating skilled trades in the province and determines certification and apprenticeship guidelines for each of the trades it governs.
Critics of the OCT, such as Mr. Hudak and other Tories, argue that it is an unnecessary bureaucratic layer and inhibits young people from entering the trades due to the strict journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios dictated by the college. These ratios stipulate a minimum number of qualified tradespeople on a work site for every apprentice hired; for example, in a trade with a journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio of 2:1, there must be two journeypersons on site for every apprentice hired. Critics also argue that the fees charged to employers for membership in the college, which is mandatory for compulsory trades such as electricians and auto mechanics, act as a tax on contractors and businesses.
The Institute has also expressed criticism of the college in its latest Annual Report Course correction: Charting a new road map for Ontario. The Task Force argued that journeyperson ratios restrict entry into the skilled trades, thereby exacerbating potential labour shortages and counteracting the government’s goal of increasing the number of young people entering trades through programs such as the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Moreover, the justification for Ontario’s strict ratios as creating safer work sites through the increased oversight of inexperienced workers fails to fully address safety concerns. Simply having more journeypersons on site does little to ensure apprentices are effectively trained on safety protocols. Data on workplace injuries show an inconclusive relationship between journeyperson ratios and accidents on site.
The Institute agrees that policy reform should occur within the Ontario College of Trades to increase the quality and number of skilled trades people in the province. However, abolishing the college when it was only just formed may be premature. There are merits to having a professional association for skilled trades. Establishing compulsory trades for which a given level of training is required will help boost apprenticeship completions in Ontario and make workers more productive and innovative. Trade associations like the OCT may also be more effective in identifying new and best practices and disseminating them across training providers.
However, the journeyperson ratios set by the OCT should be greatly reduced or eliminated to improve the competitiveness of trades industries. Rather than ensure safety in the workplace, they mainly serve to give experienced tradespeople privileged status in their field and bar many young people from seeking employment. This policy does little to improve the quality of trades training and stifles labour market competition.
For the OCT to maintain its credibility, the Institute recommends it do more to mandate training and safety standards instead of enforcing strict journeyperson ratios that only protect those already working in the industry. This would aid in the development of a highly qualified trades workforce. Without these changes, the OCT risks becoming a burdensome bureaucratic layer rather than the agent for innovation it has the potential to become.
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