Canadians are signing up for vocational training again

As a high school student strong in math and science, Amy Spiers took what seemed like the natural next step after graduating with a degree in Geomatics Engineering.

But after 12 years in the industry, Spiers wanted something more creative and practical, which led her to an apprenticeship in carpentry.

“I’ve always loved building things,” said Spiers, now 37 and in her third year at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary.

A woman's hand wearing a geometric ring guides a piece of wood through a saw.
Spiers’ engineering ring can be seen working on a project in SAIT’s woodworking lab. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

Spiers is part of a growing number of people in Canada who are signing up for apprenticeships amid ongoing labor shortages in many skilled trades.

After falling during the pandemic, the number of people enrolled in apprenticeships is now back to its highest level since 2014, according to the latest data available from Statistics Canada.

In 2022, 81,141 Canadians registered for the apprenticeship program, an increase of approximately 12 per cent from 2021.

The growing interest in crafts is good news for such industries building And manufacturing Which has struggled in recent years to find skilled workers, although the increase in registrations has not yet translated into an increase in the number of certified tradesmen.

Increasing request

While all provinces and territories have seen an uptick in enrollments, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario are leading the charge, said Graham Ziegler, who heads the Canadian Center for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada.

Display of hammers inside a wooden shed.
Tools are on display inside the woodworking lab at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Carpentry is among the professions seeing a rise in apprenticeship registrations, according to Statistics Canada. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

The picture looks a little different in each province.

Quebec, for example, saw most of its growth come from enrollment in carpenters and electricians programs, while Alberta saw most of its growth come from apprentice electricians, plumbers, steamfitters, pipefitters, and heavy equipment mechanics.

Average job income for Red seal trade In Canada it is $111,500, according to the latest reports a report From the non-profit Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, although income varies widely depending on the specific type of trade.

Industrial electricians, for example, earn about $182,200 annually, while hair stylists and barbers earn about $44,700, the report said.

The growing interest in different types of careers is evident in the hallways and classrooms at SAIT, one of the nation’s largest post-secondary institutions teaching apprenticeships.

SAIT has seen an almost 20 per cent increase in its number of trainees in the past two years, from 5,494 in the 2021/2022 academic year to 6,541 so far this year.

Officials expect interest to continue to grow, and are adding another 1,000 vocational training seats for the upcoming academic year to meet expected demand.

“It’s a good thing,” said Jim Suttner, dean of apprenticeships at SAIT.

“It was well known that people in the trades were getting older and would get older and retire…so it’s very refreshing to see new people coming to us.”

Aging workforce, rapid construction creates opportunities

Certified tradesmen are already an aging sector of the workforce, said Statistics Canada’s Ziegler. He added that the number of merchants aged 55 or over increased between the last two census surveys in 2016 and 2021, while the number of young people decreased.

“All of this coincides with a rise in vacancies for authorized dealers, which nearly doubled from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2023,” he said.

“There are certainly some challenges, but I think there is also opportunity for those who are thinking about working in skilled trades.”

A man wearing a ball cap, safety glasses and earplugs stands in front of a rack holding planks of wood inside a carpentry factory.
Eric Corbin, part of the woodworking program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, poses for a photo inside the institution’s woodworking lab. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

The opportunity created by this demographic shift is part of what attracted Eric Corbin to the deals.

Corbin, who is also enrolled in SAIT’s carpentry program, had previously worked at a ski resort, but was frustrated by the amount of money he was making. He wanted a career with a long-term future.

“I knew we were going to lose a lot of older traders, and now is the best time to learn from them and then hopefully take their jobs in the future,” Corbin, 33, said.

“I knew it was the best place to be.”

A man sits in a Canadian Association of Home Builders office, wearing a white shirt and brown suit.
Kevin Lee is CEO of the Canadian Home Builders Association. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

However, Kevin Lee, CEO of the Canadian Association of Home Builders, said the current increase in the number of people registering for apprenticeships will not be enough.

The current labor shortage in this sector is expected to worsen in the next decade. Nearly 20 percent of construction workers are expected to do so the retirement In the next ten years, a period that the federal government also aims to achieve Double Housing construction rate.

“It will take some time to get out of the current situation,” Lee said, and believes targeted immigration to attract skilled workers should also be part of the solution.

Certifications are still lagging behind

Another issue is that while the number of Canadians registering for apprenticeships is increasing, the number of people certified in trades still lags behind pre-coronavirus levels.

This is partly due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, when closed work sites made it difficult for trainees to complete their programmes.

It also reflects a broader trend: the number of people who sign up for apprenticeships has historically been much higher than the number of people who eventually become certified in the trades.

The average completion rate for men in Canada’s 15 largest apprenticeship programs was 47 per cent in 2021, according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. As for women, it reached 34 percent.

For some people and some situations, it may not matter. For example, Lee pointed out that anyone can have a successful career in framing without necessarily becoming a certified carpenter.

For others, it does. In most governorates, for example Electrical specialist Must be certified in order to practice.

A degree also often translates into better pay and more advancement opportunities, said Emily Arrowsmith, director of research and programs at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. Therefore, it is something her organization tries to encourage as much as possible.

One way to help narrow the gap between registrations and certifications is to make professions more inclusive, she said. Women, for example, may enter apprenticeship programs but leave before earning a degree if they feel isolated or unwelcome at their work sites, she said.

Arrowsmith said the work is already underway United Brotherhood of Carpenters And the BC Center for Women in the Professions She is part of an industry-wide campaign to make the professions more welcoming — a move she believes will help the professions recruit and retain workers in the long term.

Spiers, a carpentry apprentice, said she supports anything that can help people from different backgrounds understand each other and work together better.

A more pragmatic approach could also help, she said, referring to federalism Pilot project which provided scholarships for women to complete their degrees. The pilot finished last year.

“It would be nice to have that back,” she said.

A student wearing a blue jacket and baseball cap was photographed drawing a project inside a woodworking factory.
Students photographed in a woodworking lab at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

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