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‘Antiquated’ apprentice rules starving economy of skilled workers: report

Apprentice Tavain Jackson performs an oil change on a van at the Canadian Tire service centre in Vaughan, Ontario, in this 2012 file photo.

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Overly restrictive and "antiquated" provincial regulations are contributing to a shortage of young apprentices and starving the economy of badly needed skilled workers, according to a C.D. Howe Institute study.

Ottawa and the provinces offer a range of grants and tax incentives to encourage workers to become apprentice electricians, carpenters, welders and the like.

And the country's roughly two million skilled tradespeople typically earn much higher incomes.

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But the study by Robbie Brydon of Engineers Without Borders and Benjamin Dachis of the C.D. Howe Institute found that "pernicious" provincial regulations are keeping too many young workers from becoming apprentices.

Regulations are generally aimed at protecting workers and the public by making sure workers are properly trained, the authors said. The study argues that government could better regulate quality and safety in the workplace, rather than by limiting access to trades.

"Instead of regulating inputs, governments should shift the focus of trades' regulation to outputs," according to the study, Access Denied: The Effect of Apprenticeship Restrictions in Skilled Trades.

The study comes as the federal government moved this week to curb abuses of its controversial temporary foreign worker program, which companies have been increasingly tapping because they say they can't find qualified workers in Canada.

Among the problematic provincial rules are mandated ratios of apprentices to journeymen at companies, overly restrictive accreditation programs and numerical caps on registered apprenticeships.

Not surprisingly, the provinces with the tightest entry rules have the fewest workers becoming apprentices, the study found.

The study singles out Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan for requiring relatively high ratios of workers to journeymen

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The authors offer a tantalizingly simple solution: "If provinces want more workers in the trades they should allow firms to hire more apprentices."

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More


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