Apprenticeship training at Polytechnics Canada’s members

In the 2015/2016 academic year, over 46,000 apprentice students attended our 11 member institutions* in one of their 242 apprenticeship training programs. These programs ranged from boiler-making to welding and included training for 52 Red Seal trades.

Polytechnics Canada collects a variety of apprenticeship-related data and information from its Deans of Trades and trade-specific instructors on its 266 Apprenticeship programs. Our members have experience developing and delivering innovative instruction methods such as pre-apprenticeship training and dual-credential programs. We can deliver on-line learning and simulated work experience. Our members are also well positioned to monitor emerging enrolment and dropout trends, as well as market wages for both apprentices and journeypersons in their economic regions.

Why Polytechnics Canada focuses on apprenticeship

Armed with our members’ evidence and depth of experience in delivering apprenticeship training, Polytechnics Canada is working to reform the country’s apprenticeship support system. Since the Canadian model of apprenticeship training constitutes a four-way partnership between apprentice, employer, training institution and government, more can be done to strengthen the apprenticeship "system." We are urging the federal government to review and modernize trades training to ensure that more apprentices complete their programs.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship program is generally a combination of four levels of classroom learning alternating with on-the-job training, over the course of a minimum of four years.

Much more information on apprenticeships can be found through the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. 

Polytechnics Canada is a patron member of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

How does apprenticeship work in Canada?

In order to begin an apprenticeship, a prospective apprentice must find an employer with enough certified journeypersons on staff to meet the province’s ratio requirements, which varies by province and by trade. With enough journeypersons to meet the ratio, and willingness to sponsor the apprentice’s training, the employer signs up the apprentice and registers a contract with the provincial authority. The minimum age requirement is 16 years of age and applicants must have completed a high school diploma. While there are the minimum requirements to register, aspiring apprentices should also be fully aware of the significant amount of science, technology, and mathematics competencies that must be mastered in the technical training in order to obtain certification.

About 80% of the training is spent on-the-job, learning practical skills under the direction and supervision of a Certified Journeyperson, a master of the trade. The other 20% of technical learning takes place in the classroom, such as a college, a union training centre or a private trainer, where the theoretical and technical skills and concepts of the trade are taught. Practical training and technical learning constitute a minimum of 1,800 hours per level. After completing a certification examination, the apprentice receives a Certification of Qualification and is known as a journeyperson and can then go on to mentor the next generation of apprentices.  

Why apprenticeship matters for Canada

Apprenticeship programs are essential in filling current and projected job shortages, as well as ensuring Canadian prosperity. For instance, the many large infrastructure projects across Canada will create an unprecedented demand for qualified tradespeople. Some experts predict a shortage of more than 300,000 skilled workers over the next decade in the absence of concerted efforts to increase supply.

Canada urgently needs to value the talents of our home-grown trades professionals. Yet, only 19% of skilled trades employers sponsor apprentices. For decades now, Canadian apprenticeship completion rates have been well below 50 per cent. In short, not enough apprentices are obtaining the certification required for existing and upcoming infrastructure projects. Furthermore, the demographic profile of the current supply of qualified tradespeople shows that a majority of these workers will retire within the next decade. Unless action is taken, there will not be enough certified journeypersons to oversee the ongoing training of future generations of skilled tradespeople.

Recommendations for federal action on apprenticeship – Polytechnics Canada’s positions:

As our members’ enrollment and wide range of offerings in trades training show, Polytechnics Canada’s members are well placed to deliver short- and long-term solutions for the serious labour shortage in skilled tradespeople. Unfortunately, despite the growing need for these graduates, current policies discourage apprenticeship training, and are limiting the number of skilled tradespeople we could produce. In response, Polytechnics Canada is advocating new measures and strategies that will ensure Canada has the job-ready graduates to meet industry’s growing requirements for these highly skilled workers:

  • Create a High Demand Training Capacity Fund to increase the technical training intake of apprentices in the high demand professions: At Canada's leading trades training institutions, including Polytechnics Canada's members, wait-lists are growing for high demand programs for occupations such as heavy duty equipment mechanics, crane operators, steam/pipe fitters and welders. The highly technical nature of these programs means that they require certified instructors, specialized equipment, and small class sizes. For example, due to physical space limitations, and health and safety ratios, Saskatchewan Polytechnic is limited to training only 96 electrician apprentices per year. The maximum capacity of their wait-list is 356 qualified apprentices, which is also full year over year.
  • Increase the number of Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs on offer across Canada: Young people wishing to pursue a skilled trades apprenticeship program, including college and university graduates, often have no applied skills experience and have trouble finding employers to register them as apprentices. The lack of exposure to workshops at home, or a shop classes in secondary school, poses a significant entry barrier for high school graduates who would like to pursue a career in the skilled trades but cannot convince an employer to take them on. The answer is Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs that provide introductory training to the trade at a college or polytechnic and make the students more attractive to potential employers who are then willing to sponsor their training by becoming employers of record.
  • Create a National Registered Apprentice Number to track key indicators on apprentice registrations, pathways and progress: Since 2012, Polytechnics Canada has called for the creation of a National Registered Apprentice Number (NRAN), a single-unique federal identifier for all registered apprentices in Canada. The current set of tools in the government’s apprenticeship policy toolkit have become antiquated and have a one-size-fits-all design. Through the proposed NRAN, the Federal Government, training institutions, as well as employers across Canada, will have far more accurate information on the supply of active apprentices, what trades they are enrolled in, and where and how they progressed toward achieving their certification of qualification.
  • Create a Tax Credit for “Employers of Record” of Apprenticeship Completers: To raise completion rates for apprentices, create a financial incentive - similar to the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit - to reward the employer of record when an apprentice completes his/her certification, to lessen the risk of poaching, or the increased labour cost of keeping a newly certified journeyperson. Employers are a critical piece of the apprenticeship training system. They get a tax credit for creating an apprenticeship position, but there's nothing "in it for them" so to speak if they're employing the apprentice who finally finishes the classroom training and writes the certification exam, and could potentially move on leaving the employer without the skilled talent they’ve invested in over the last four years.

Polytechnics Canada commends the federal government for creating the Canada Apprentice Loan in Budget 2014. With the creation of the Canada Apprentice Loan, more apprentices are now able to pursue the next level of their technical training at training institutions including polytechnics. The Government recognized the financial burden faced by apprentices when they return to the classroom while maintaining their monthly financial obligations. We heartily endorse the objective of the Canada Apprentice Loan to help more trades trainees complete their apprenticeship and become certified journey persons.

*Polytechnics Canada currently has a membership of 13 institutions. Kwantlen Polytechnic Institution and Fanshawe College are excluded from this data.