Employers stumble in hiring apprentices

Less than one-in-five hire apprentices, despite looming shortage

Despite reports there are currently 20,000 skilled positions employers can’t fill, and estimates from the Conference Board of Canada that there will be 1.2 million open positions by 2025, most employers aren’t hiring apprentices, according to a recent study.

“The time is now to start taking care of this issue. You can’t hire a green apprentice and have them be a fully functioning journeyperson overnight,” said Beverlie Cook, project manager of the Skills Canada and Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s joint Skilled Trades Promotion Project, which commissioned the Employer Attitudes and Perceptions of Apprenticeship Study.

If employers don’t start hiring and training apprentices now, there won’t be enough journeypersons to train the newcomers when the real shortage hits, making it even worse, cautioned Cook.

Of the 1,038 companies in the construction, manufacturing, transportation and service sectors surveyed, only 18 per cent of them currently hire apprentices.

Nearly a third of employers that don’t currently employ apprentices (32 per cent) said they don’t because they were unsure of their workload needs or they simply didn’t need extra workers.

“It’s unfortunate that my business peers aren’t taking more advantage of this resource,” said Don Strong, vice-president of Carstar Quality Collision Service body shops in the Ottawa area.

New research, which hasn’t been released yet, will quantify just how valuable apprentices are, said Cook. The research shows an apprentice’s earning capability quickly outpaces apprenticeship training costs.

“We need to ensure that employers understand that in fact hiring and training an apprentice very quickly becomes a benefit to the company rather than a net cost,” said Cook.

Of the employers that hire apprentices, 22 per cent said they did so to ensure a sustainable supply of skilled workers, while 16 per cent said the ability to train apprentices to their own requirements was their top motivation.

“From the time a person grows from being an apprentice through to a journeyperson, they understand that particular business and are highly trained in the most current technologies,” said Cook.

The study found 63 per cent of journeypersons have completed a portion of their apprenticeship training with their current employer.

“We hear rumours about apprentices jumping ship,” said Cook. “Well, they’re not. If employers treat them well, obviously they stay.”

Strong admits there are challenges to training apprentices, likening it to raising teenagers, but said it’s worth the effort. While some apprentices won’t work out — they may not have the aptitude or they may lose interest — the most talented ones often stay on after their training is completed.

Of Strong’s 46 employees, four of them started their apprenticeship training with him and worked their way up to journeypersons in their trades and another nine are apprentices just starting out.

“Apprentices are part of our culture,” he said. “There’s not even a thought of not using apprentices.”

The ability to take on more apprentices within the organizations surveyed exists, said Cook.

“About 40 per cent of employers had journeypersons and less than 20 per cent had apprentices,” she said. “There is room for growth.”

The study revealed some employers might take advantage of that capacity for growth with 39 per cent indicating either a definite or probable intention to hire an apprentice within the next year. And the majority of employers surveyed (90 per cent) have a favourable opinion of apprenticeship training in Canada. They just need to be educated about how hiring apprentices can improve their bottom line and how easy it is to do, said Cook.

An education campaign is one way to encourage more employers to hire apprentices, said Strong.

“But a better way would be to educate our school system and develop pre-apprentice programs to create better opportunities for students to get placed in apprentice trades,” he said.

An earlier study by the Skilled Trades Promotion Project, Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Awareness and Perception Study, found just 32 per cent of youth aged 13 to 17 are likely to consider a career in skilled trades.

“We have to encourage more young people to make skilled trades a first-choice career option,” said Cook. “But we have to ensure employers are willing and able to take on apprentices and train them.”

The new federal budget gives some employers an incentive to hire apprentices. The budget proposes a tax credit to encourage employers to hire new apprentices in specific trades such as electrical and pipe trades. Eligible employers would receive a tax credit of 10 per cent of the wages paid to an apprentice in the first two years of his contract, to a maximum of $2,000 per year.

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