May 10, 2023

We need a skilled trades sector that reflects the diversity of our communities

Originally published in Education for Employment Magazine. 

By Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada . 

Canada continues to top the G7 in terms of the total number of college and university graduates as a share of its total population. In 2021, 57.5% of Canadians aged 25-64 held a college or university credential. That’s up 3.5% from 2016 and the highest percentage among G7 countries.  

While more and more Canadians complete postsecondary education overall, we cannot ignore a decreasing trend in the number of working-age apprenticeship certificate holders. Those figures have either stagnated or decreased by up to 10% between 2016 and 2021, according to the most recent census data. The number of young workers joining the skilled trades simply cannot keep up with the number of older workers retiring. The trend presents an ominous outlook for the future of the sector.  

Many are calling it a crisis. Skilled trades workers build and maintain things like homes, schools, hospitals, and roads. If the trend continues, the future of this essential infrastructure could be in jeopardy. Take housing for example. It takes more than 30 different skilled trades and other occupations working on site to build a typical home. The future of the housing sector in Canada needs designers, painters, plumbers, electricians, masons, roofers, and a lot of equipment.  

A career in the skilled trades is rewarding, well paid, and requires highly-skilled hands-on work with specialty knowledge and training. It’s a clear path to SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, yet the sector continues to be challenged by associated stigma, misconceptions, and limitations on access.  

The solution begins with SDG 4 Quality Education. Colleges and institutes are experts in hands-on learning and offer over 300 pre-apprenticeship programs in over 20 skilled trades. And, over 80 of those programs are designed to support groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the trades. 

For example, at Canadore College in Ontario, the General Carpenter Pre-Apprenticeship Program for Women provides high-quality training for Indigenous women, or any woman, interested in a career in carpentry. Learners are also supported by culturally inclusive strategies during training and placement, with continued support as they transition into the workplace or further education. 

Getting more women into pre-apprenticeship classrooms is essential to reversing current trends in the skilled trades labour market. The next step is Career Launcher Apprenticeships  

Career Launcher Apprenticeships is an example of the work Colleges and Institutes Canada does as Canada’s skills solution. The program provides financial incentives to small and medium-sized employers in construction and manufacturing sectors to help them hire first-year apprentices, especially those from equity-deserving groups who are often underrepresented in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Eligible equity-deserving groups for this program include women, Indigenous people, newcomers, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, including racialized communities, and 2SLGBTQI+ people. 

Employers get access to talent to grow their businesses, incentives to recruit, hire, and onboard new apprentices, and support to navigate the apprenticeships certification systems across Canada, which vary by province. Over two years, 5,360 apprentices will benefit from Career Launcher Apprenticeships, including more than 1,300 apprentices from equity-deserving groups.   

Career Launcher Apprenticeships futureproofs our economy by supporting small and medium sized employers, responding to labour market needs, and ensuring that all people have access to work and learning opportunities.  

If we want to build – quite literally – a sustainable future, we need more plumbers, boilermakers, heavy equipment operates, and welders that reflect the diversity of our communities.