To help meet the demands of Nova Scotia’s growing population, the province is investing $100 million over the next three years to help speed up the recruitment and training of skilled tradespeople.
Premier Tim Houston announced the program Thursday, saying the goal is to add up to 5,000 new apprentices to the provincial system over that time period. With a growing population, Houston told reporters, it’s important to increase the pool of skilled workers to build needed homes, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure projects.
“The work they do is critical to our growth and they are in high demand,” he said. “The way we are currently training these skilled professionals can’t keep up with the level of demand.”
According to provincial officials, Nova Scotia needs about 11,000 new certified trade professionals by 2030, or about 1,000 annually. Currently, the province is bringing in about 615 tradespeople a year, a shortfall of about 38 per cent of what’s needed.
Aside from shortages, Nova Scotia also has a problem retaining people who begin the certification process. Only 43 per cent of people who start an apprenticeship complete the various levels of training and achieve certification. Officials said that with the new program they announced Thursday, they hope to reach a retention rate of 60 per cent, which would be among the highest in Canada.
To reach those ends, Houston said training ratios on work sites will be changed for most skilled trades, allowing three apprentices per journeyperson instead of two apprentices.
The province is also waiving the requirement that immigrants who worked in the trades in their home countries have a Nova Scotia equivalent high school diploma before they can start as apprentices. Officials said the requirement had been highlighted by employers as a barrier to bringing in newcomers.
The investment includes $40 million in various grants and incentives for students, apprentices, employers and journeypersons to help with such things as buying new tools. Although most of the details are still being worked out, the tool grant alone could be as much as $1,000.
Incentives to attract people to the trades also include a temporary tuition waiver at the Nova Scotia Community College for high-demand workers, such as carpenters and plumbers. There will also be new laptop and technology support grants, while apprenticeship exams will be offered online to make them more accessible.
As well, pre-apprenticeship programs at the college will be shortened: the one-year certificate will now be six months and the two-year cut to one year. The province will also offer a financial incentive, which has yet to be determined, to encourage more tradespeople to train apprentices.
Labour Minister Jill Balser said the changes are the result of extensive discussions with various trades sectors. “The actions announced today are in direct response to the ongoing discussions and ideas from (trade) sectors on what they feel will work,” said Balser.
Trent Soholt, chair of the board of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, welcomed the changes, saying “there’s nothing that introduces a new barrier.”
He said that with major projects planned, such as the hospital redevelopments in Halifax and Sydney, N.S., the need to increase the labour pool over the next 10 years is evident.
“With investment at the level that we are going to see … not only do we need every Nova Scotian to see and seize the opportunities in skilled trades, but we are going to need people to come to the province from elsewhere,” Soholt said.
Duncan Williams, president of the 800-member Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said the government’s plan addresses the frustrations expressed by many employers.
“This (plan) I think will allow us to better connect employers with potential employees,” he said.