Apprenticeships close immigrant wage gap

On-the-job training increases hourly pay, employment options
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/12/2011

Immigrants with a completed apprenticeship make more money and are more likely to be employed than counterparts without an apprenticeship, according to a recent study.

“We found that, overall, when you look at the differences in earnings across different education levels, male immigrants with apprenticeships do as well in the workforce as (Canadian-born) people with community college diplomas or other forms of post-secondary education, other than university,” said Ted McDonald, a professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and co-author of the study.

First-generation male immigrants with a completed apprenticeship earn nearly 20 per cent more per week than those with only a high school education, according to Incidence and Returns to Apprenticeship Training in Canada: The Role of Family Background and Immigrant Status. This holds true for second-generation male immigrants who earn 15 per cent more per week.

The increase could help close the current wage gap between immigrant workers and Canadian-born workers, said Sarah Watts-Rynard, executive director at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum in Ottawa. As of 2008, the average hourly wage of a Canadian-born employee 25 to 54 years old was $23.72, compared with $21.44 for an immigrant worker, according to Statistics Canada.

Immigrants with apprenticeships not only earn more but are more likely to be employed than counterparts who have only a high school diploma, found the study.

“Apprentices walk away from apprenticeships with a real understanding not only of the equipment a particular employer is using, but also a real sense of the environment and the culture of the organization,” said Watts-Rynard. “So, when an employer is looking to fill a journeyperson or supervisor position, it makes a lot of sense that they would turn to someone they have already made an investment in.”

Despite the significant earnings and employment advantages, apprenticeships aren’t common among newcomers, found the study. One reason for this may be the federal government’s points system for determining which immigrants can come into Canada, said McDonald.

“We’ve seen stories about shortages of highly skilled tradespeople in Canada and how the more recent immigrant inflows tend to have more university education, and with the points system having such an emphasis on university credentials, it’s not surprising, what we found,” he said.

The shift in the composition of immigrants coming to Canada is another reason for the low apprenticeship rates among immigrants. Immigrants from traditional source countries, such as the United Kingdom and countries in Western Europe, were more likely to complete apprenticeships than those from new sources countries, such as those in Asia, found the study.

“In some Asian countries, there’s different expectations of what someone should do that has some status to it — and university education has that kind of status — whereas European immigrants have seen skilled trades as having tremendous value,” said Watts-Rynard.

Yet another reason for the lack of apprenticeships among immigrants is the inability to find employers to hire them.

“When employers are looking to take on apprentices, they take on some risk, so they might have a preference for apprentices from their family, friends, contacts or community,” said McDonald. “So immigrants, even if they are so inclined to do an apprenticeship, may find it harder to get an employer to take them on.”

Employers may be reluctant to take on immigrant apprentices because they aren’t sure how their skills match up, said Jessi Zielke, senior lead of labour supply initiatives at the British Columbia Industry Training Authority in Vancouver. Different countries have different regulations around trades occupations and standards, so there might be a knowledge gap, she said.

Change on this front would have to come from higher up, said McDonald.

“Employers need to see there’s a reason to cast the net more broadly,” he said. “It could come from government, occupation licensing boards or trades groups because they have an interest in encouraging more people in the skilled trades.”

More information needs to be given to immigrants so they better understand the Canadian job market and see the path to many jobs in the trades is through apprenticeships and certification, said Zielke.

“We need to provide more information around the occupational choices they can have,” she said. “It should be in their first language so they can become comfortable with it, understand it and then they can start navigating outside their community.”

Employers should consider immigrants for apprenticeships because they bring a different perspective and a “richness of experience” from their different backgrounds and cultures, said Zielke.

Hiring immigrants as apprentices will also bode well for employers when the labour shortage hits, she said.

“You want a workforce that’s representative of the cultural mosaic in the community,” she said. “If you attract immigrant workers who are qualified to start entering in the apprenticeship system then your labour pool opens up… and when the labour shortage hits, you will be more attractive to entry-level people.”

By the numbers

Average weekly earnings for male immigrants

The table below shows the average weekly earnings, by generation, of male immigrants to Canada based on their level of education.


First generation

Second generation

Less than high school



High school



Other trade certification









University degree



Higher degree



Source: Incidence and Returns to Apprenticeship Training in Canada: The Role of Family Background and Immigrant Status

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