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Report warns of apprenticeship gap

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Canada is missing out on economic opportunities by not having enough apprenticeships available in enough sectors, says a newly released report.

Canada is missing out on economic opportunities by not having enough apprenticeships available in enough sectors, says a newly released report.

“Expanding the availability of apprenticeships would yield significant economic and social benefits for Canada. It would provide young people with more pathways to rewarding careers, better align worker skills with employer needs, increase career opportunities for those who learn best by doing rather than through classroom study, raise income levels for workers in “middle-skill” jobs and, potentially, reduce youth unemployment,” states Expanding Apprenticeship Training in Canada: Perspectives from International Experience.

The report, written by Robert Lerman, a professor of economics at American University in Washington, D.C. was published by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE).

Apprentices account for 2.2 per cent of Canada’s labour force, for a total of 426,000 apprentices.

This ranks below Australia’s 3.7 per cent and the United Kingdom’s 2.7 per cent.

Almost half of Canada’s registered apprentices are in one of four occupations: carpenter, electrician, plumber and automotive service technician.

The author noted that the range of occupations with apprenticeships is narrow in comparison to other countries.

He also said the expansion of Canada’s apprenticeship system would relieve some of the pressure for the government to increase spending for colleges and universities.

The report highlighted that Canada’s apprenticeship system primarily targets adults older than 25.

Jurisdictions such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland have stronger links between employers and the public education system, and have low rates of youth unemployment.

Lerman said governments and employers can do more to encourage apprenticeships as a training and recruitment tool in white-collar and service industry careers, such as banking, sales and information technology.

“Initially, apprentices cost more than the value of their production. But, as they acquire skills, the value of the work they perform approaches or exceeds the wages and the costs borne by the employer,” states the report.

“As a result, many studies conclude that employers experience zero or near-zero net costs.”

A modest investment would improve the quality and accessibility of information on apprenticeships.

Governments and business groups should also consider establishing a peer-to-peer network to allow apprentices to reach out to other apprentices, sponsors and workforce professionals to interact with each other, recommends the report.

The report suggests that Canada should conduct research to determine the availability of apprenticeships in a wide array of occupations and the extent that employers use apprenticeships in these occupations both in Canada and other countries.

The research should identify barriers to growth and the steps that would help the expansion of apprenticeship.

“Among the regulatory barriers that should be examined in detail are the requirements for specific ratios of journeymen to apprentice. This is a contentious issue but one that deserves objective analysis,” it said.

The report looked at case studies in the U.K. and South Carolina that point to the importance of both a broad marketing/branding strategy and a more focused one to one campaign, where highly qualified representatives promote apprenticeships to individual employers.

It said both strategies could work in Canada, though more research is needed to find out what factors limit interest in apprenticeship among students and employers.

“One obvious point is that continuing the emphasis on ‘trades’ is counterproductive since it suggests that apprenticeships are limited to a relatively narrow range of occupations,” states the report.

Encouraging young people to pursue apprenticeships is expected backfire if there are not enough apprenticeship slots available.

The public and private sectors would have to take more initiative in order to develop new apprenticeships in new occupations, target groups and/or new institutions.

One possibility is that governments develop new apprenticeship opportunities with a few industries.

“Industry associations could help by defining the skill requirements of a specific set of occupations. Provincial governments could then fund pilot projects within those occupations, working in partnership with industry associations and educators at the high school or post-secondary levels,” suggested the report.

“Financial incentives could be provided to community colleges to offer related instruction and to undertake the job of marketing apprenticeships to individual firms.”

It adds that such projects should include an evaluation that looks at the issues surrounding implementation that assesses costs and benefits for employers and apprentices.

The report speculated that public funding per apprentice in Canada probably falls well behind funding for a university or college student.

It called for a government commissioned study to compare levels of public support.

The paper is part of a series of reports commissioned for the CCCE initiative Taking Action for Canada: Jobs and Skills for the 21st Century.

by Kelly Lapointe

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