Three students allowed per journeyperson with government approval
An apprentice welder at work. — Photo courtesy of the Office to Advance Women Apprentices
A permanent change in provincial regulation is expected to help get a flood of new skilled trades apprentices in this province up to journeyperson status.
Ultimately, the move is expected to provide more red-seal Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for skilled trades jobs opening up across the country.
It comes down to a decision by the Provincial Apprenticeship and Certification Board — to make permanent a change already being tested as a pilot program. Specifically, it allows two apprentices to work on a job site under the supervision of each journeyperson.
Apprentices need to clock a certain number of hours on the job, under a journeyperson in their trade, before they can be certified a red-seal journeyperson in their trade.
In this province, the large number of students emerging from trades colleges looking to get their hours — paired with the number of journeypersons finishing up their careers and leaving the workforce — had resulted in a shortage of apprenticeship spaces under the past regulations (limiting the apprentice-journeyman ratio at 1:1).
A motion to make the new 2:1 ratio permanent was passed in June and will apply to all trades, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Association (NLCA), just one organization now applauding the decision.
In a statement issued Thursday, the association noted the provincial skilled trades certification board has also granted the director of the Apprenticeship and Trades Certification Division, under the provincial government’s Department of Advanced Education and Skills, the ability to issue permits allowing employers three apprentices to one journeyperson in certain cases.
The three-to-one permit will require at least one of the apprentices to be in their final year. The employer will also have to submit a written request to government, explaining how these apprentices will receive proper training and how workplace safety will not be jeopardized, should the higher ratio be allowed.
“At a time when we are on the cusp of an impending shortage of skilled construction trades workers, this is a positive step forward for the construction trades,” NLCA chairman Brad Sheppard stated.
Sheppard told The Telegram the ratio of journeypersons to apprentices is not a main focus of the industry at present. “The shortage of labour is the issue,” he said, explaining the student-teacher ratio might help in addressing the issue.
The provincial construction labour force currently amounts to between 15,000 and 20,000 workers, according to the association. The workers are mainly employed with small construction firms, averaging about 20 employees.
Group members happy with change
The Merit Contractors Association represents some of those companies, many non-union contractors active within the province.
“Our members are quite happy with the change and the permanent status of this,” association director Paul Dubé told The Telegram, adding the possibility of having a third apprentice hired per journeyperson comes as “a very welcome bonus.”
If there was one reservation the organization would have in regards to the third apprentice, he said, it would be in how the applications to government regulators are handled.
“So if a contractor has the need for that third apprentice ... the process of submitting that request has to be fairly streamlined with accountability on their end to be able to turn around a decision in a reasonable time,” he said.
“Because construction itself is based on the ability to have people on site to do the work, as well as getting the work. If things are held up on the regulatory side, that’s not going to be a good thing.”
Dubé said the availability of journeypersons and apprentices in certain trades already has some companies seeking “mentors” for the training of apprentices — recently retired journeypersons interested in teaching at the job site.
“They’ll be on for the sole purpose of being able to mentor apprentices,” he said, explaining having a journeyperson to instruct allows employers to then hire one or two new apprentices. “People are trying to be creative out there to overcome some of the (labour) challenges.”
Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Joan Burke was unavailable for comment on the changes to apprenticeship ratios Thursday, as she was tied up with meetings in Central Newfoundland, according to a department spokesman. Written comment from government on the changes is expected today.
Budget 2012 included $4.1-million for programs aimed at advancing apprentices through their training, including the introduction of a journeyperson mentorship program, expansion of the apprenticeship wage subsidy program and the introduction of an apprentice tracking system.
$200,000 has been set aside to establish a Workforce Development Secretariat and efforts are being made to improve access to child care — also aimed at addressing barriers to apprentices making their way through training.