Introduction

Changes to Come for Ontario’s Skilled Trades

Changes to Come for Ontario’s Skilled Trades

As many of you know, on November 21, 2018 the Provincial government enacted Bill 47, making a number of sweeping changes to Ontario’s labour and employment-related legislation. Included in those changes were fundamental alterations to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009 (the “OCOTAA”). The OCOTAA is legislation that regulates businesses employing skilled trades, and members of certain trades.

What is the OCOTAA?

The OCOTAA gives the Ontario College of Trades (the “College of Trades”) centralized authority to regulate all “approved trades” in Ontario. Pursuant to the OCOTAA, the College is required to perform standard regulatory functions such as:

  • Issuing licenses and certificates of membership;
  • Protecting the public interest through investigation and disciplinary mechanisms;
  • Setting standards for training and certification;
  • Conducting research and collecting relevant data to support future apprenticeship and certification policies;
  • Removing barriers and increasing access for internationally trained workers.

Over the years, subsequent Regulations have been enacted under the OCTAA, relating to the designation of approved/prescribed trades (AKA “compulsory trades”), ratios of apprentices to journeypersons, training curricula for apprentices, etc.

Why are changes being made?

Following its recent election, the Provincial government voiced significant concerns about the ever-present shortage of skilled trade workers in Ontario, as well as the “red tape” which is preventing workers from accessing jobs in skilled trades:

  • The regulatory burdens placed on employers and apprentices under the OCTAA are creating barriers to apprenticeship, making it difficult for the Province to keep up with demand for skilled tradespersons.
  • The Province estimates that one in five new jobs over the coming years are expected to be in skilled trades.
  • Employers are voicing concerns about retaining skilled trades workers after they are trained – low retention rates are likely caused by the shortage of qualified skilled trades workers in the Province.

The government has taken steps to address the above concerns by amending the OCTAA. A summary of the changes initiated by Bill 47 can be found below.

a)   “One-to-one” Journeyperson to Apprentice Ratios

One of the most significant “choke points” under the current OCTAA regime is the setting of bespoke “journeyperson to apprentice ratios” depending on industry type and job classification. Part of the justification for establishing a variety of different ratios between industry types was to allow certain industries to establish and maintain more stringent training requirements for certain trades.

As a result of the above-described arrangement, ratios in certain Ontario skilled trades grew to become some of the most stringent across Canada. This phenomenon has historically limited an employer’s ability to train apprentices relative to the number of journeypersons in their employ. Ontario’s high journeyperson to apprentice ratios (i.e. significantly higher than one qualified tradesperson per apprentice) have contributed to the consistently increasing costs seen in the residential and commercial construction sectors.

Pursuant to Bill 47, effective immediately, all journeyperson‐to‐apprentice ratios are “one-to-one” for the 33 construction trades that are subject to ratios. This means that (subject to their collective agreements), employers and/or sponsors of these 33 trades can now begin to hire apprentices at a rate of “one-to-one” for each journeyperson. The aim of this change is to simplify and streamline how employers can hire and oversee apprentices, reducing operating costs for employers, and providing more flexibility in training arrangements. This change will also bring Ontario in line with other provinces across Canada which have similarly low journeyperson to apprentice ratios across large groups of skilled trades in the construction sector.

In theory, Bill 47 also provides the government with the authority to expand the “one-to-one” ratio rules beyond the construction sector. Currently, construction trades are the only skilled trades affected by the “one-to-one” rule as they are the only trades in Ontario that are subject to ratios.

b)   Freezing Trade Classifications and Reclassifications

At the time of this writing, there are currently 22 “compulsory” trades in the province of Ontario. Under the OCOTAA, anyone practicing a “compulsory” trade must obtain a Certificate of Qualification or be registered as an apprentice or journeyperson candidate and must be a member in good standing of the College of Trades.

A list of current “compulsory” trades can be found below:

  • Alignment and Brakes Technician
  • Auto Body and Collision Damage Repairer
  • Auto Body Repairer
  • Automotive Electronic Accessory Technician
  • Automotive Service Technician
  • Electrician – Construction and Maintenance
  • Electrician – Domestic and Rural
  • Fuel and Electrical Systems Technician
  • Hairstylist
  • Hoisting Engineer – Mobile Crane Operator 1
  • Hoisting Engineer – Mobile Crane Operator 2
  • Hoisting Engineer – Tower Crane Operator
  • Motorcycle Technician
  • Plumber
  • Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Systems Mechanic
  • Residential Air Conditioning Systems Mechanic
  • Residential (Low Rise) Sheet Metal Installer
  • Sheet Metal Worker
  • Steamfitter
  • Transmission Technician
  • Truck and Coach Technician
  • Truck-Trailer Service Technician

In addition to the above trade categories, there are 133 “voluntary” trades in which a certification or a license is not required to practice the trade. However, proof of certificates and licenses are often requested by employers at the pre-employment stage. A current list of all regulated trades, including voluntary trades, can be found on the College of Trades website linked here.

According to the Provincial government, the creation of new trade classifications and re-classifications over the past decade have become burdensome tasks that have caused additional “choke points” in the administration of the OCOTAA. Under the current regime, there may be a substantial degree of overlap between two similar trades which may not warrant the creation and administration of different categories of rules and training systems. In practice, the splitting of sub-trades and their associated training systems has made it difficult for apprentices to find journeypersons who are qualified to train them.

Pursuant to Bill 47, the provincial government has implemented a moratorium (i.e. a freeze) on the creation of trade classifications / re-classifications to prevent further splitting of trades into different categories. According to the government, the moratorium will reduce regulatory burdens, costs for businesses and the educational choke points described above.

c)   Winding down the College of Trades

The historic administration of the OCOTAA has created certain challenges in how trades in Ontario are regulated, including high fees charged to journeypersons and apprentices (which have resulted in a $20M surplus at the College of Trades) and complex rules that apprentices and journeypersons alike must abide by.

The Provincial government is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the College of Trades in an effort to modernize Ontario’s skilled trades systems and bring them in line with those currently in effect in other jurisdictions. As part of its plan, the Provincial government will be winding down the Ontario College of Trades.

The government has promised no interruption in services to employers, workers and apprentices, who will continue to be regulated under the current OCOTAA regime until a replacement system is fully implemented. The Provincial government has promised a “replacement model” for the regulation of Ontario’s skilled trades and apprenticeship system at some point in “early 2019”. To date, no replacement model has been implemented.

d)   Improvements to the Apprentice System

As part of its review of the skilled trades and apprenticeship system in this Province, the government has pledged to review the ways in which apprentices are trained in an effort to benefit processes for both employers and employees. The government claims that its modernized system will make it easier for trainees to navigate and move through the apprenticeship system and secure appropriate training so that they can enter the workforce safely and efficiently.

Once again, it is unclear at this time what changes the government intends to implement, however, there was a public consultation regarding this issue in January 2019, in which the government invited suggestions from industry stakeholders.

Key Takeaways for Employers

Due to significant labour shortages over the past two decades, inefficiencies in Ontario’s skilled trades system have been a cause for concern for quite some time. The enactment of Bill 47 does not mark the first time Ontario’s skilled trades regulatory system has been reviewed in an effort to eliminate some of the “choke points” and inefficiencies identified above. For instance, when the OCOTAA first came into effect in 2009, the statute took the place of two other long-standing regulatory systems (which were subsequently repealed).

Many critics of the new direction the Provincial government is adopting point to potential safety concerns related to the training of new apprentices by fewer journeypersons. It is worth noting that similar concerns were raised by industry stakeholders when the last round of changes took effect in 2009. The current government needs to strike a balance between the administration of the skilled trades system and the overriding health and safety requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It remains to be seen what alternate or additional safety measures will be built into Ontario’s modernized apprenticeship system.

Aside from the “one-to-one” rule in the construction sector, employers’ day-to-day operations remain status quo as a result of the fact that replacement systems and processes have not been implemented. This means that the College of Trades will continue to deliver key services, and valid College-issued credentials remain a requirement to engage in several trades under the OCOTAA. The College of Trades continues to process membership fees. Apprentices are also still required to maintain valid Statements of Membership with the College of Trades in order to hold active Registered Training Agreements with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

To date, a significant number of changes are still coming down the pipeline due to the fact that they are still under development. With that said, employers should be aware of the fact that changes are coming and should also be ready to hit the ground running as and when they become official. All signs appear to point to changes taking effect over the coming months.

As always, we will keep you posted as and when more information on this subject becomes available. Stay tuned!


Written by Tushar Anandasagar

Tushar Anandasagar is an Associate Lawyer at LeClair and Associates P.C. He works in all areas of Labour and Employment law, with a particular focus on Workplace Health and Safety compliance and related issues. For further information or discussion, please contact Tushar by email at Tushar@leclairandassociates.ca.