OTTAWA — Skills shortages are becoming a common cry among skilled trades employers in Canada. While the challenges go well beyond any one magic-bullet solution, it is clear that a major contributing factor is a corresponding shortage of apprenticeship training opportunities.
According to research by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, less than one-fifth of skilled trades’ employers are engaged in hiring and training the next-generation workforce. Until we tip that balance toward training, shortages will continue to make headlines.
Employers tell us there are many reasons not to train — from fear that their tradespeople will be poached to concerns about cost. And from an employer’s perspective, there are risks involved with hiring someone without certification in hand. Yet, research tells us there is a solid business case for hiring and training an apprentice. For those employers who are sitting on the sidelines when it comes to apprenticeship, I want to share five good reasons why it’s time to put the excuses aside.
1. Employers who train see tangible financial results that continue to increase every year an apprentice is on staff. Our research tells us that for every dollar an employer invests in an apprentice, they see an average return of $1.47. We have tested this across 21 trades and have no reason to believe it wouldn’t stand up in the others. The size of the business and its location in Canada had no significant impact on the economic return.
2. Apprentices can be trained to meet the unique needs of business, absorbing the culture, technology and environment while they learn trade-specific skills. By the time they are certified, apprentices have become specialists who know your business and your customers. Even certified tradespeople new to your business take time to get acclimated to a new workplace.
3. Demographics are hard to beat, even if you are able to convince tradespeople to stick around for a few extra years. Inevitably, employees are going to retire, taking corporate knowledge with them. By engaging your most talented tradespeople as mentors, you ensure that their expertise is transferred to your next-generation workforce. Journeypersons often report a renewed sense of purpose when they are given the opportunity to train an enthusiastic apprentice. This is a great way to put those extra years at work to good use!
4. More than a thousand skilled trades employers report home-grown journeypersons are more productive, make fewer mistakes and have better health and safety records than outside hires. Their investment also pays off in supporting lower turnover rates and success when it comes to recruitment. Employers engaged in training tell us apprenticeship helps them create and sustain a high performance workplace, while poaching from competitors erodes loyalty.
5. Apprenticeship is cost-effective. Temporary foreign workers cost employers between $5,000 and $20,000 per person, while apprentices produce a positive net return in most trades by the second year. Federally, there are tax credits available for training apprentices in Red Seal trades and many jurisdictions also offer incentives and supports for employers who train. These may include wage subsidies, tax credits or preferential access to government contracts.
If your ability to take on new contracts, expand your business and grow your bottom line depends on skilled tradespeople, apprenticeship is a solution that can’t be ignored. Employers can get started by having a conversation with their provincial or territorial apprenticeship authority, learning more about the regulations and assistance available to them.
Sarah Watts-Rynard is the Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, a non-profit organization that connects Canada’s apprenticeship community.