Ontario’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government has made bolstering skilled trades in the province a focal point of its policy agenda. This year has been marked by a series of initiatives aimed at bolstering opportunities and protections for workers across the province.
In early March, Ontario announced they would be helping more students enter the skilled trades faster by enabling them to begin full-time apprenticeship programs by grade 11. Later that same month, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD), the Hon. Monte McNaughton, introduced the Working for Workers Act, 2023, which includes a host of measures to improve protections for workers in the skilled trades. Then, in May, Ontario announced it would be removing unfair work barriers for skilled newcomers by removing Canadian work experience requirements related to some regulated professions. Free job training for people with disabilities was also introduced that month. Additionally, in June, Ontario launched a new fund to build skilled trades training centres. And, in July, the government also launched free job training for newcomers. All of this is just a sample of the work done on this front in recent years.
Ontario’s PCs have effectively established the narrative that the province wins when workers win. They have placed great stock in taking serious steps towards education and workplace issues that have hampered the success of Ontario’s skilled workers, and their related industries, in recent years. This approach has been met with success electorally and in achieving historic results – apprenticeship registrations increased by an unprecedented 24 per cent last year and the PC party won a renewed majority government mandate.
Ontario’s skills gap has been a prominent concern for the current government since the start of its first term in 2018. At that time, the Conference Board of Canada indicated that, if not addressed quickly, the skills gap could result in over 550,000 unfilled positions by 2030, with around $25 billion in economic opportunity, and $3.7 billion in provincial revenues, lost. Over 20% of the workforce was set to retire in the next decade and – if no corrective measures were taken – roughly 40% of employers would have trouble replacing them.
The harsh reality confronting the industry has led many organizations representing some segment of the skilled trades community to become politically active on this issue. Major organizations, such as the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), have expressed that Ontario’s education system has failed to produce the supply of workers needed to satisfy current levels of demand for skilled labour. And, further, where students have sought out the trades, they have encountered difficulties finding an employer to sponsor their apprenticeship.
Taking all of this into account, the Ontario PC government’s motivation behind the heightened importance it has placed on the skilled trades is twofold. Firstly, Ontario is confronting a major gap in demand versus the supply of skilled trades workers, making serious policy action and investments imperative. Secondly, this presents a political opportunity. Through their pro-worker rhetoric, increased investments, and regulatory overhauls, the Ontario PCs have successfully courted numerous private sector unions, such as the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), improving their vote share and electoral successes in parts of the province traditionally dominated by the NDP.
HOW ONTARIO COMPARES TO THE REST OF CANADA
In 2021, Statistics Canada released the results of a Survey of Employers on Workers’ Skills, highlighting trends across the country. According to this data, more than half of Canada’s businesses lacked a fully trained and proficient workforce in 2021. Well over 50% of businesses from key skilled trades industries – such as manufacturing, construction, and mining – reported such deficiencies. Over 60% of businesses said this was negatively impacting their activities. And most firms who reported this were medium (more than 20 employees) to large (more than 100 employees) in size. The results of this survey point to this as a national trend, with minimal disparities overall across regions.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS SAYING
- “We’re taking steps to create a bigger pipeline of talent to ensure we continue to have the best workforce in the world to keep attracting investments and build Ontario” – Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario (21 March 2023)
- “Ontario is facing the largest labour shortage in a generation, and our government is on a mission to help workers train for the well-paying jobs we know are available… We will continue to invest in innovative training programs and ground-breaking infrastructure to prepare job seekers for the future of work.” – Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (21 June 2023)
WHAT EXPERTS ARE SAYING
- “This increase in apprenticeship numbers represents a collaborative effort and strong determination in Ontario’s approach to invest in our workforce and empower rewarding career paths in the skilled trades while strengthening the culture surrounding them… The growth and retention of skilled apprenticeship is a testament to the ongoing commitment of labour, industry and government working together to remove barriers, streamline pathways in the industry and advance opportunity for a skilled workforce at the forefront of building Ontario.” – Victoria Mancinelli, Director of Public Relations, Marketing, Strategic Partnerships at LiUNA (13 June 2023)
- “The members of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) applaud our Provincial government’s continued focus on normalizing construction as a career destination and making access to entry easier through apprenticeship. This movement to prepare young people for in-demand and well-paying construction jobs will make a profound difference to both students and employers.” – Giovanni Cautillo, President of Ontario General Contractors Association (8 March 2023)
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
- “Everyone says the future is going to be all digital and the future is going to be all science and technology. Absolutely, yes, and the jobs you are going to be doing are going to continue to get more sophisticated, require more and more technology and computers to do it, but building a house is never going to be done by a robot. The skills you have are always going to be necessary and they can’t be offshore.” – Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister (22 February 2023)
- “If the new apprenticeship pathway is not carefully created to ensure student safety and success, it will put students’ futures at risk” – Chandra Pasma, Education Critic for Ontario’s NDP (28 June 2023)
In their most recent budget, released 23 March 2023, Ontario’s PC government highlighted ongoing workforce challenges – noting that the province’s current labour force shortage exceeds 300,000 – and devoted an entire section to outlining how the government will work for workers to tackle this shortfall, especially as it pertains to the skilled trades. Included within the budget are multiple new funding commitments to the Skills Development Fund to execute this vision. The government committed $224 million for a new capital stream to expand training centres and provide more flexible and accessible training opportunities for Ontario’s workers (in the 2022-2023 fiscal year). And an additional $75 million was committed to the Fund over the next three years to aid workers and apprentices in acquiring new skills and opportunities to help advance their careers. These and other recent commitments demonstrate the current government’s short and long-term commitment towards bolstering Ontario’s skilled workforce a key component of its governing mandate and electoral strategy.
JB+A Senior Management Team: