Forum promotes skilled trades resources to employers

While Northwestern Ontario is experiencing a shortage of workers in the skilled trades, there are plenty of programs out there to help employers take on apprentices and invest in the region’s future.
This was theme of the “Passport to Prosperity” employer apprenticeship forum held yesterday morning at La Place Rendez-Vous, which featured a panel of local speakers to inform the 50 or so employers on hand as to the resources available here.
The Northwestern Ontario labour market is seeing its skilled workforce age while fewer and fewer young people are following in their footsteps, Vicki Kurz, project manager for the Crescive Corp., said as she kicked off the forum with an overview of the region’s current situation.
One of the problems is many people perceive skilled trades field as “low-paying, involving dirty and demanding physical work and not intellectually challenging,” with only one in four youth ever considering a career in skilled trades.
Seventy percent of parents promote college or university as a destination for their child, she added, but only 33 percent of students actually pursue post-secondary education.
Meanwhile, 17 percent of high school students drop-out prior to graduation and go into neither the skilled trades nor college/university routes.
Add to this the fact the region is dependent on a resource-based economy of forestry and mining (which are seeing layoffs and closures) and needs more diversity, as well as a lack of entrepreneurs starting their own businesses here, and the regional labour market needs skilled tradespeople now more than ever.
Despite the misperceptions, Kurz said the reality of a career in the skilled trades is a lucrative one, providing “rewarding, challenging, and well-paying jobs.”
Students can “earn while they learn” through apprenticeship programs, and the job prospects are good—44 percent of the jobs available are in the skilled trades and technologies.
In fact, only 11 percent of today’s jobs require a university degree.
On the flipside, employers implementing an apprenticeship training program can increase competitiveness, improve productivity, improve the quality of their services/finished products, improve the skills of their workforce, reduce turnover, increase employee loyalty, and plan for the future (with experienced employees retiring, skilled apprentices can replace them).
Kurz noted surveys of employers have indicated education institutes can help reduce the shortage of labour by encouraging students to go into trades, increasing the number of co-op programs, increasing opportunities for on-line training, and devoting more time to employment skills.
Likewise, businesses can help reduce the shortage by participating in more co-op and apprenticeship programs, investing in upgrading employees’ skills, sponsoring immigrants, improving wages/benefits, and improving communications with educational institutions.
Kurz noted the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Ministry of Education have taken action to address the skilled trades shortage, with numerous initiatives through education institutes, social agencies, and employment services.
< *c>Local resources
As was evident by the seven speakers who were on hand for yesterday’s forum, there’s no shortage of resources out there for local employers to get involved with apprenticeship training programs.
It’s just a matter of those employers knowing the help is out there.
Marnie Cumming, apprenticeship co-ordinator for the Rainy River District School Board, said the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) provides opportunities for high school students to begin apprenticeships while still in school.
This program provides benefits to employers like:
•letting them observe the potential of individuals on a trial basis to see if they are a good fit in the workplace;
•enhancing their public image and consumer loyalty; and
•providing opportunities for young people to pursue rewarding careers in their home communities rather than seek work elsewhere.
Steve Latimer, job developer and placement office at Northern Communities Development Services here, said NCDS can offer wage subsidies to employers who want to take on apprentices to help offset training costs for the first three-four months.
This is so the employers know whether or not they want to take on the apprentice for a longer period of time.
NCDS also offers a scholarship and signing bonus program, whereby youth who haven’t graduated are given a $1,000 incentive to get their diploma (or other educational requirement needed for their apprenticeship).
Meanwhile, their prospective employer is given $2,000 (in two separate instalments) for hiring that youth.
Both these programs apply to youths aged 16-24 who are out of school, out of work, and not receiving benefits.
Mike Cameron, manager of community programs for Confederation College here, explained apprenticeships are governed by legislation and those in programs have to meet certain standards before becoming certified in their specific trade.
He noted apprenticeships consist of two components—90 percent workplace experience and 10 percent classroom instruction—and the college is where the latter part comes in.
Cameron said the college offers a myriad of apprenticeship programs, from welding and carpentry to professional cook and electrician, to name a few. And it is working on being able to provide more at the regional campuses outside of Thunder Bay.
The instruction component of the programs often is flexible, and can be delivered in the classroom (daytime/evenings), via videoconferencing, and on CD-ROM and the Internet.
Mike Anderson, employment officer with the United Native Friendship Centre here, said the UNFC offers numerous programs, but most pertinent here is the “purchase of training” program whereby an individual wanting to pursue a trade gets up to 52 weeks of their training paid for.
If the program goes longer than 52 weeks, the final 52 weeks will be funded instead.
The UNFC also has an apprenticeship wage subsidy program, a youth internship program, summer career placement program, and a “stay in school” initiative where students get a placement at a desired workplace to get a better idea of what they can do once they get their diploma.
Jane Gillon, with the local Northern Development and Mines office, said the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. has some business development incentives to help create jobs, including:
•repayable loans for capital projects/purchases that will result in job creation;
•conditional contributions (grants with stipulations) for co-op placements/internships for recent graduates (this is intended to stem youth out-migration);
•funds to start a new business (aimed at keeping young entrepreneurs here to develop business in new areas, and not compete with existing ones);
•conditional contributions to retrofit a small business to conserve (or generate its own) energy; and
•repayable loans for the development of emerging technologies (information and communications, biotechnology, film development and production, and value-added products).
Delbert Horton, CEO of Seven Generations Education Institute here, said his institute is dedicated helping more First Nations students stay in—or go back to—school and complete their education, whether that means getting a post-secondary degree in any number of programs or entering an apprenticeship.
He noted surveys have shown 80 percent of the First Nation youth population want to stay in the region, while Kurz said earlier in the forum that aboriginal people have grown to comprise 33 percent of the Canadian labour force (up from 16.9 percent in 1996).
Wayne Zimmer, co-ordinator of apprenticeship programs for Seven Generations, said its newest apprenticeship program is with the Placer Dome gold mine in Red Lake.
Other apprenticeship programs include ones to be an educational assistant, early childhood educator, industrial electrician, and one meant for aboriginal women pursuing skilled trades.
The forum, one of a handful held in the Rainy River and Kenora districts this week, was an initiative of the regional “Passport to Prosperity” committee, the Crescive Corp., Rainy River District School Board, Kenora Catholic District School Board, and Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, in co-operation with Seven Generations Education Institute, Rainy River Future Development Corp., and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
For more information on apprenticeship resources, contact any of the above local agencies or visit www.toolsthatwork.ca on the Internet.