Minister estimates only $600,000 to be spent for program this year
The journeyperson mentorship program was officially announced in fall 2012, as part of the provincial government’s work to move more skilled trades apprentices through to journeyperson status.
It was announced early — ahead of the first available funding in the fiscal year of 2013-14 — with the hope of spreading the word and generating strong participation. Unfortunately, according to Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien, uptake has been minimal so far and the program has failed to meet expectations.
Under the program, the provincial government has offered to pay for a journeyperson-level mentor to work at an employers’ job site, supervising and teaching apprentices. The idea is to provide more opportunities for skilled trades apprentices’ training, allowing them to get in hours on the job and advance towards journeyperson status while not taking away from the same employers the time of their most experienced staff, who would otherwise have had to act as the trainers.
The province also made the move to allow as many as five apprentices trainees to one journeyperson under the program, increasing from the typical ratio of two to one.
The hope was to help train as many as 120 apprentices up a level.
“We only had two employers that actually signed contracts and we actually only had about five registered apprentices, all in the electrical field, that participated,” O’Brien said Thursday.
Announced as a two-year pilot, the mentorship program was expected to require $2 million a year, but only $600,000 is budgeted for the coming year.
The minister said the mentorship program remains open to all comers. There will be no pulling back by the government or new barriers to employers, mentors or apprentices signing on. And if the uptake improves as the year goes on, he said, the budget can be revised back up.
But O’Brien doesn’t currently expect it will be — until the department can look at the program and find ways to draw in more participants.
“When we set the parameters around it, we didn’t get a whole lot of uptake from journeypersons, because some of them retired wherever they were working (at their last job), went on to work in Muskrat Falls beyond their retirement, working out in Long Harbour, various other big projects we have here in the province,” he said.
The location of employers, mentors and apprentices has also emerged as a consideration.
“Some of (the potential mentors) retired in places such as, say for instance, Burgeo, and we had an opportunity to have a mentor placed with an employer in Corner Brook, but the person didn’t want to move from Burgeo to Corner Brook to participate in the program, although they would have participated if we had to have the same opportunity in Burgeo.”
Generally, interest has been expressed in finding new ways to connect apprentices and mentors on job sites.
In February 2013, The Telegram dropped in on an information session in St. John’s about the new mentorship program — the end of two weeks of sessions around the province by the Department of Advanced Education and Skills staff. According to a department rep at the meeting, at least 30 would-be mentors attended the sessions.
Meanwhile, during a House of Assembly committee meeting on March 31, O’Brien said he remains committed to the pilot journeyperson mentorship program for now and hopes to be able to find a way to make the program more responsive to both employers and apprentices.
“We won’t be turning down any employers that have access to a journeyperson,” he said.
The government has instituted or continued to support other programs aimed at encouraging skilled trades development, apart from the journeyperson mentorship program. They include a wage-subsidy program offering employers up to 90 per cent of their apprentice wage costs.