Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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New apprenticeship vision aimed at reshaping skilled trades education in Canada


A group of stakeholders in the manufacturing industry is developing a new vision of what they believe industrial apprenticeships should look like in Canada, and they’re getting ready to bring this vision to government.
The SME, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) and the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT) are still in discussions about the details of this vision, but once they have agreed on the mechanism to put such a system in place, they’ll be bringing it to government in hopes of getting it on the agenda for the next provincial and federal elections.

The availability of a future manufacturing workforce that is both well-educated and well-trained is one of the imperatives that came out of the “Take back manufacturing” (TBM) initiative launched by SME more than two years ago, with the goal of getting government, educators and industry leadership to work together to plan the recovery of the declining manufacturing sectors in Canada.  

According to the vision document posted on the SME’s website (thanks to research conducted by Ron Kurtz, an executive team leader of the SME in Toronto, and the leader of the TBM integrated apprenticeship initiative), without significant re-planning and action now, Canada will “experience a drastic and increasing shortage of experience, knowledge and skills when we try to rebirth most manufacturing sectors.”

The document says that Canada needs to manage its manufacturing workforce and “focus on creating a highly knowledgeable, skilled, competent and integrated workforce at all levels and disciplines within and across the industrial sectors.”

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This, the stakeholders say, will require an integrated and scalable apprenticeship system to administer education and training with full support and involvement from industry sectors, educational institutions and the local governments.

The problem with the current system, says Nigel Southway, past chair and secretary, SME Toronto, is that it’s not efficient, it’s not scalable and it’s not integrated well with industry.

“The real issue is there’s no really organized apprenticeships for both the trades and the professional grades that are really integrated well with industry,” he says. “We’re trapped in educational silos right now between the universities and the colleges and the trade schools. There’s no continuity between the educational systems. They’re very vertical; they’re not horizontal. So one thing [that] needs to change is that the educational systems need to be made more horizontal so you don’t waste any years. We hear a lot of complaints about, you know, you start this particular course and then if you want to switch up, you have to retake a lot of stuff. That’s not really efficient. So it’s not scalable.

“The other problem,” Southway continues, “is that the industry, other than at the trade level, the students go to school, they go for educational training in a college or university and then try to find a job in industry to get experience. That’s not an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is where you are indentured to the industry, and the industry sends you to school. The educational system is too siloed between the various grades of education — trade up through engineer — so that it takes a lot of effort to create a pathway for somebody that wants to grow through that process.”

Southway says that industry needs to take responsibility for training.

“It’s all the responsibility of the student and the educational system to provide the training, and that’s wrong. It should be the other way around,” he says. “It needs to be organized or led by government. Government needs to actually direct it, industry needs to own it, and the educational system needs to support it.”

Government, he says, needs to “induce the right behaviour in the industry by some form of inducement taxes or benefits. It’s not going to happen just by wishing it or just by talking about it. It’s got to be driven by the government system.

“It’s clear that industry expects the educational system to put people through a system so that they’re viably capable of being employed. That’s not doable as an educational system. There’s got to be a joint partnership between the educational system and industry,” he adds.

To undertake such an apprenticeship system, the stakeholders say that it is necessary to form one body for joint industry education and training that will convene full-time to design and administer the system.

The Joint Industrial Apprenticeship Board would include a member of cabinet from both the federal and provincial levels.

In addition, the stakeholders say the following activities must take place:
•    Design and undertake an integrated and graduated apprenticeship program for all trades and professions, and link this with industry demand projections for industry employment and development;
•     Support apprenticeships for both current professionals and those new to manufacturing by allowing entry at various stages of the program;
•     Set up job creation programs for young people;
•     Communicate and promote this process to young people and their parents;
•     Rebuild strong employment goals for the next generation;
•    Define and plan for professional re-training of management and technical staff, and link this with industry demand projections to support industry employment and development; and
• Provide career development consulting centres, and link this with industry demand projections to support industry employment and development.

The group feels that it needs to be an indentured apprenticeship process to ensure stability, and that funding should be shared between industry, government and the student. The system, they say, must include all grades of skill — from trade entry positions to professional engineer — and integrate government, industry and professional regulating organizations. For this to work, they say that all current professional societies and associations must integrate requirements and operate one system of acceptance within the apprenticeship process.

The organizations have agreed on the principle of the vision, but are currently working on the details of the mechanism to put such a system in place so they can have a unified voice when they bring it to government in the first quarter.

Southway encourages industry to talk about this.

“The more people that talk about an apprenticeship program being useful, the more likely it is to happen,” he says.

The bottom line, adds Southway, is that there is no choice.

“If we carry on like we’re going, we’re going to have more and more unemployment of youth. We’re not going to even have any manufacturing because we’re not going to have the skills to match the demand.”