3.2 Enhance Canada’s skilled trades

As technology advances and the tools needed to perform work change, it is more important than ever to ensure the qualifications and credentials that underpin Canada’s skilled trades evolve along with it.

Canada needs skilled workers. Labour market forecasts consistently predict severe trade shortages, both in the building and construction trades as well as within the auto sector. Campaigns led by industry groups and government that draw attention to the trades as a career choice for young people are underway in all parts of the country, but are met with at best mixed results. In fact, in the ten years between 2010 and 2020, the number of newly registered industrial millwright apprentices remained static, fluctuating from 1,400 to 2,100 per year, following a similar trend line for industrial electricians.

Employers demand skilled workers but generally want to hire them “ready-trained.” This reluctance to invest in apprentices and skills training is one part of the larger problem. Instead of opening up new spaces for apprentices, too often, employers will attempt to reconfigure and redefine the work that skilled tradespersons do. Rather than enhance their skill sets, the introduction of new technology can lead to disputes over jurisdiction, with employers claiming that new skills and work tasks fall outside a journeyperson’s responsibility. This approach threatens to erode the skill base of trades workers in the auto sector and undermines the quality of work in the long run.

  • As the shift toward electrification and new Industry 4.0 work processes takes place, the pre-existing challenges of trades, attraction, retention and preservation, will rise to the surface. Governments, including provincial trades oversight bodies, must calibrate new skills such as 3D printing and scanning, virtual reality, simulation and robotics through Canada’s Red Seal certification framework or include these skills within expanded scopes of practice across existing trades.

  • The speed at which Canada’s auto industry will transition to electric vehicle production and what that footprint looks like remains unclear. However, within a few years, the outlook on Canada’s auto industry future went from bleak to bright. A rapidly growing industry that is contributing to reduced GHG emissions and achieving Canada’s broader net zero ambitions, has a lot to offer a new generation of workers. Using this appeal as a launchpad to attract young workers into the skilled trades may greatly assist ongoing government and employer recruitment efforts.