Fighting the apprenticeship battle: OEL sets off against IBEW for electrical apprenticeship ratios ahead of OCOT review

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Electrical apprentice training

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

The battle lines for the upcoming Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) apprenticeship ratio review process are being drawn as the Ontario Electrical League (OEL) issued a statement in late August asserting that red tape prevents 73 per cent of Ontario electrical employers from hiring new apprentices because of ratio restrictions.

Representatives from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) quickly responded, saying proposals to allow many more apprentices on job sites will risk safety and not result in improvements in apprenticeship completion rates.

Apprenticeship ratios – the number of journeypersons required to be employed in relationship to the number of apprentices – became a contentious issue when the OCOT first went into business about five years ago, as organized labour advocated for tighter restrictions compared merit shop employers. Decisions were often made based on the background/relationships of ratio review panels – and this process was one reason the former Liberal government asked Tony Dean to conduct an extensive review of the OCOT, recommending several changes in the organization’s governance.

In April, the Ministry of Labour approved a regulation providing the OCOT an additional 12 months to consult with stakeholders about potential improvements to the journeyperson to apprenticeship ratio review process and criteria. The actual ratio reviews are now set to begin in April 2019.

“Over the next year the College will work with stakeholders to develop a framework that will clarify the broader public policy objectives ratios are intended to achieve, refine how the ratio review process is conducted, and make any needed changes to the criteria for determining appropriate ratios,” the OCOT said in a statement.

“We’re looking forward to the next round of stakeholder consultations on the framework and process so that when April 2019 arrives we can make both timely and informed decisions,” said George Gritziotis, the OCOT’s CEO and Registrar.

The identification of potential data sources is also in progress which will provide relevant labour market data to stakeholders prior to the next round of ratio reviews. Ratios were last updated four years ago, coming into effect on April 14, 2014, and many were adjusted to allow sponsors to take on more apprentices. For most trades this was the first time ratios have been reviewed in decades.

The OEL says the current apprenticeship ratio rules are among the most complex in the industry. It wants to see a ratio of one apprentice per journeyperson, regardless of the number of workers employed by the contractor.

Current rules call one electrician apprentice for each journeyperson for the first four workers, followed by a one-to-thee ratio for the next three workers, then a one-to-six ratio “for the next six additional journepersons” and then, for very large projects/businesses, “for every three additional journeypersons thereafter, an additional apprentice.”

“Entering the electrical trades in Ontario is increasingly difficult because of the apprentice to journeyperson ratio cap, which puts the education and development of the next generation of electricians at risk,” OEL president Stephen Sell said in a statement.

“Many Ontarians trying to enter the industry are turned away because contractors have already filled the maximum amount of apprentice positions they can legally have,” he said. “As an association that represents the electrical industry, the OEL is working to change the regulation for the betterment of the economy and the industry.”

The OEL said in its statement that of 127 contractors surveyed, 73 per cent said they would hire more apprentices if they could – with a total count of 307 additional apprentices that could potentially enter the workforce, a number based on the OEL’s research alone.

However, James Barry, executive chairman of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario said in a statement that the current ratio ensures safety and promotes better quality construction. He indicated that OEL contractors were trying to save on wages.

“When considering ratios, one must also give sufficient thought to how this would affect completion rates, the integrity of apprenticeship training and occupational safety,” Barry said in the statement. Barry is a former member of the OCOT board of directors.

In the statement reported in a construction publication, Barry wrote: “A scheme that would allow contractors to cut their costs by hiring ‘helpers’ under the guise of apprenticeship – knowing full well they will never advance to journeyperson status – is not a solution to any potential skilled trades shortage.”

The OEL says it disagrees that allowing more apprentices is simply a device to save money, observing that apprentices are generally less productive, and require a journeyperson’s mentoring and support, taking time from the job. “If you look at it from an overall economic standpoint, it is probably a wash,” Sell said in the published report.

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