Apprenticeships Guide

Looking for a new career path but not sure if an apprenticeship is for you? This document identifies the myths and realities around apprenticeships and answers commonly asked questions.

Download Guide Download full guide. (PDF)

Myths and Realities About Skilled Trades

Formal research and anecdotal evidence suggests that negative perceptions and attitudes about skilled trades exist among many youth, parents, and educators throughout Canada. Unfortunately, over the last generation, these negative attitudes have led to the creation of many myths within our society that if left uncontested, may further compound the impending skills shortage within Canada. This document is meant to expose some of these myths, and reveal the true realities. You may be surprised!

MYTH: UNIVERSITY IS FOR SMART STUDENTS WHILE SKILLED TRADES ARE FOR STUDENTS WHO DO NOT DO WELL ACADEMICALLY.

Reality

This is probably one of the most common myths about skilled trades, and it is simply not true.

The reality is that skilled trades require individuals with a strong academic foundation of literacy, mathematical and analytical skills, not to mention creativity, problem solving, coordination, and most importantly, a passion for their trade. These skills and characteristics are needed to perform complex tasks such as: deciphering intricate blueprints while building an office tower; analyzing various elements (such as weather conditions, weight and distance) while operating a crane situated on a 10 story building; or identifying the potential volume of water and its resulting pressure when installing a sewage system for a hospital. These are but a few examples of the multifaceted tasks that skilled trades people regularly perform.

As an apprentice, a student learns the most recent techniques and uses the latest high technology equipment required to be competent in all aspects of their trade. These students must learn the theory of their trade in a classroom and then apply their knowledge and academic foundation to master the technical skills on the job.

In short, selecting a skilled trade, and entering into an apprenticeship is a first-choice post-secondary option. Similar to other options, successfully completing an apprenticeship takes intelligence, dedication, focus, and hard work. Students who enter these programs prefer careers that are 'handson', and enjoy applying their knowledge and skills to produce visible results at the end of the day. They are passionate about their work and take pride in their accomplishments.

MYTH: A UNIVERSITY DEGREE IS THE ONLY POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION THAT PROVIDES A GOOD FUTURE.

Reality

Achieving a Certificate of Qualification for a skilled trade is also a ticket to a good future, given the high demand, good pay, ability to travel across the country, and lower rates of unemployment.

Opportunity - With the eminent skills shortage caused by lower birth rates and an ageing population, trades people will be in high demand. By 2020, it is estimated that Canada will be short 1 million workers . In the manufacturing sector alone, 400 000 workers will be required in the next 15 years due to retirement. By 2007, more than one-third of jobs created in Canada will require trade certification or a college diploma. As just one example, some business leaders are predicting that by 2010, plumbers will be in high demand similar to the demand for individuals with IT skills in the 1990's. These statistics really 'hit-home' when we have to wait several months to obtain services from skilled trades people such as plumbers, electricians or carpenters, to carry out home repairs!

Good Pay - Apart from professionals such as doctors, dentist or lawyers, university degree earnings may not be as high as one might think. Career in the skilled trades provide income levels which are above the national average for employed Canadians. In fact, according to the 2001 Statistics Canada census, trades people generally earn a salary approximately 3.1% above the national average of all Canadian careers combined .

Travel - There are currently 45 trades that are designed as 'Red Seal' trades. This means that there is an agreed national occupational analysis and cross-country standards specific to each of those trades that allows people with Red Seal endorsements to work anywhere in the country. More than 80% of the skilled trade journeypersons are certified in one of these 'Red Seal' trades. So, for example, a Red Seal certified tradesperson from the Atlantic coast will be able to work in his/her trade on the west coast when the opportunity arises. Skilled trade careers provide flexibility, choice and freedom to choose that "perfect situation."

Lower Rates of Unemployment - It is also interesting to note that in general, the unemployment rate for those with college or trades training is lower than the average unemployment rate in Canada, which includes university graduates.

MYTH: THERE ARE LIMITED CHOICES WITHIN SKILLED TRADES.

Reality

When we think of skilled trade careers, we might think of the traditional trades such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, or mechanics. The reality is there are over 200 trades to choose from (see www.ellischart.ca). Generally, these trades fall within four main categories.

  1. Construction - electricians, carpenters, plumbers, pipe fitters, welders, heavy equipment operators, painters, etc. 
  2. Transportation - automotive service technicians, aircraft structural technicians, heavy duty equipment technicians, automotive painters, fuel/electrical systems technicians, etc. 
  3. Manufacturing - tool & die makers, industrial mechanics (millwrights), precision metal fabricators, etc. 
  4. Service - horticulturalists, chefs, florists, etc.

MYTH: SKILLED TRADES DON'T PAY WELL

Reality

You can earn a very good income in skilled trade careers.

Although wages within trades and regions very, many different trades provide earnings above the national average. Trades people can earn from $12 to $35 an hour plus benefits, with additional opportunities for overtime. For example, an instrument technician working in Alberta, who installs, maintains, and repairs the control and metering systems used in commercial and industrial processing, can earn up to $40 an hour. In the Windsor area, it is not uncommon for skilled tool and die makers - with overtime included - to easily average $100 000 annually.

Not only do trades people earn above average income, they also complete their studies without being overwhelmed by debt. By taking an apprenticeship and learning a trade, you can "earn and learn", decreasing the amount of debt that you may incur during your post-secondary training (a bachelor graduate in the year 2000 often left university students with an average debt of $19,500). Selecting a skilled trades career and taking an apprenticeship makes good financial sense!

MYTH: SKILLED TRADES ARE DIRTY AND NOISY.

Reality

There is no doubt that many trades require "hands-on" work. However, it is important to remember that technology and new techniques have greatly changed the nature of many trades. Today, an increasing amount of mechanical equipment is operated with the aid of computer software. Therefore, more and more trade workers work inside, using sophisticated computer equipment and technology.

Legislated health and safety requirements enforce strict regulations on levels of noise and exposure to any hazardous materials on a job site. Furthermore, labour and business work together to ensure their workers' safety by implementing and enforcing additional workplace safety standards.

MYTH: JOBS IN THE SKILLED TRADES ARE THE FIRST TO BE NEGATIVELY AFFECTED WHEN THE ECONOMY BEGINS TO DECLINE.

Reality

Economic growth affects all professionals and industries. However, one of the key benefits to a skilled trades career is that it is one of the most transferable careers in today's global economy. When you learn a trade, you will gain an essential skill that will always be needed in society.

Ensuring that Canada has skilled trades people is vital to Canada's future prosperity and essential to Canada's ability to have a strong economy within a global market. Economic trends are favoring countries and production facilities with a large pool of skilled workers. In other words, "qualified skilled labour = a strong economy = high rates of employment for everyone."

MYTH: SKILLED TRADES ARE SEASONAL JOBS.

Reality

Although it used to be outdoor infrastructure projects were put on hold until the frost left the ground, now, it is quite common to see skilled workers building roads and skyscrapers during the winter months. Although there is no denying that Canada's outdoor temperature makes it more challenging to be a skilled worker, with today's technology, it is possible to work in all types of adverse temperatures. For example, new technology enables trades people to work all year in the construction trades, while advanced masonry and concrete technology makes it possible to pour and cure even in below freezing temperatures. Simply adding propane heating and insulated tarps for example, creates a feasible work environment. Specialty clothing has also been designed to ensure worker's comfort during the cold winter months.

Some extreme conditions will require temporary slowdowns or complete stop of work for a period, but as soon as they pass, everyone is back to work.

MYTH: JOBS IN THE TRADES ARE DEAD-END JOBS.

Reality

Skilled trades offer not just jobs, but careers! There are many chances for advancement within a trade from supervisory positions, to management positions, to the possibility of owning your own business. The level of advancement is up to the capability and desire of the tradesperson.

MYTH: SKILLED TRADES ARE TOO PHYSICALLY DEMANDING.

Reality

There is certainly a physical aspect to many of the trades. Ironically, the nature of their "hands-on" careers is why skilled trades people have entered into these positions in the first place. For many people, this type of work is more attractive to them than a career that requires a lot of time in an office. However, it's important to clarify that there are a diversity of tasks in many skilled trade careers, from designing concepts and blueprints, to planning and project management, to administrative functions.

MYTH: WOMEN DO NOT HAVE THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH TO PERFORM SKILLED TRADES.

Reality

Physical work does not solely imply strength. In fact, skilled trades require dexterity, stamina, good hand-eye coordination and balance - all attributes that women equally possess along with men.

MYTH: AN APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM INVOLVES ON-THE-JOB TRAINING ONLY.

Reality

An apprenticeship program actually combines 80% on-the-job training to apply their textbook theories to real life situations under the guidance of a highly skilled journeyperson. Apprenticeships develop well-rounded workers, who are very skilled and comfortable in their role, making them highly productive workers.

MYTH: SKILLED TRADES ARE FOR STUDENTS WHO DON'T HAVE THE FINANCIAL ABILITY TO GO TO UNIVERSITY.

Reality

There is interesting evidence to shed some light on this myth!

According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, about 24% of youth from families with annual incomes from $25 000 to $50 000 attended university and only 1% more attended universities from families with annual incomes from $50 000 to $75 000. In the same period, of youth who did not attend university, only 40% of youth within low-income families participated in college compared to 60% of youth from high-income families.

This study also identified that university participation rates are more strongly associated to parent's level of education than their annual income. In 2001, only 17% of youth whose parents had a college education attended university and 50% of youth whose parents had a university education attended university.

Youth ages 18 to 24 were no less likely in 2001 than they were in 1993 to attend university and the gap in university participation between high income, modest ($25 000- $75 000 annually) and low-income families (below $25 000 annually) did not increase for the same period (Statistics Canada).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Apprenticeship?

An Apprenticeship is an agreement between a person who wants to learn a skill and an employer who needs a skilled worker. For a specified length of time, the apprentice learns a set of skills and is paid while he/she is taught. Apprenticeship programs are controlled by Ontario's Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). There are laws and regulations that set requirements for protecting the welfare of apprentices. Apprenticing leads to a Certificate of Qualification and Journeyperson status, recognized by hundreds of industries and businesses.

What is a Journeyperson?

You become a Journeyperson when your apprenticeship requirements have been met and you have received your Certification of Qualification.

Why would I want to become an apprentice?

You've probably heard a lot about the types of college and university programs offered in Ontario. But there is also a wide range of interesting career choices available in the world of the skilled trades. You see skilled workers every day - in construction projects, in manufacturing and in hospitality trades. Journeypersons are involved in almost every aspect of Ontario's economy. And they're in high demand in Ontario's rapidly changing workforce. Getting a job in the skilled trades is just the first step in learning new technologies that will let you build a rewarding career. Jobs in skilled trades pay well and challenge your intellect and creativity. Better still, you can earn a paycheck while you learn.

What are the requirements to start an apprenticeship and how do I apply?

You must have an employer or sponsor, which is sometimes a union or local apprenticing committee. You must be 16 years of age or older, there is no upward age limit. When registered as an apprentice, you make certain commitments to your "partners", the MTCU and your employer, in terms of your responsibilities on the job and your ability to complete the training. There are usually minimum academic requirements, either Grade 10 or Grade 12. math, science and communications are important. Once you have an employer, contact the MTCU and a consultant will register you.

Do I need my high school diploma to get into an apprenticeship?

Most employers want to see an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, however, there may be exceptions. If you do not have an OSSD, depending on your age, you may be eligible for the General Education Diploma (GED).

How can I convince an employer to take me on as an apprentice?

Surveys show that apprentices are motivated, learn jobs faster, attain Journeyperson status sooner, and are more likely to become supervisors, than workers trained in other ways. You should be strong and assertive throughout an interview and let prospective employers know the value of hiring you. Employers want to hire enthusiastic people with a strong work ethic; people willing to do menial jobs for a while until they prove themselves. Employers want people who will show up on time, and don't have to have their hands held every step of the way.

How do I know which skilled trade I would be good at? How do I choose a trade?

Picking any career is a combination of pursuing things that you are just naturally good at doing combined with your interests. If you're not sure which trade is right for you, do some exploring. There are many apprenticeships available to people of all ages and abilities. Compare the qualifications required for the trades that interest you with your skills, interests and education - is there a match? If not, are you willing to bring your qualifications up to standard? Talk to employers and people working in those trades that appeal to you and get first-hand information. Will your apprenticeship fit your current lifestyle and financial situation? In Ontario, there are more than 130 skilled trades ranging from auto mechanics to arborists and from early childhood educators to chefs. For a full list of skilled trades visit www.edu.gov.on.ca.

Does it cost anything to take an apprenticeship?

There is a registration fee, the cost of the in-school training portion, the cost of books and possibly the cost of tools. All of these depend on the particular trade.

Can I get financial help for these costs?

Some employer/sponsors will provide assistance, however, many will not. MTCU offers a 'Loans for Tools' program that provides loans so that apprentices may purchase the required tools. More details about this program are available on the Employment Ontario website.

How much will I get paid?

It depends on the trade. Usually, union member apprentices are paid slightly higher wage. Apprentices are paid on a progressive wage scale: in some trades, wages start at 40% of a certified Journey person's wages, while in other trades the starting wage is 50% or 60%. Apprentices don't get paid while attending school; however, Employment Insurance Benefits are usually available.

Do I have to get certified? What does it mean?

For those trades that are "Compulsory" or "Restricted", yes. Being certified means more than having a piece of paper. Certification indicates to employers that you have the necessary skills and experience.

What are the ACA and the TQAA?

These are the two acts that govern apprenticeship programs in Ontario. The Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act (TQAA) cover construction sector trades. The Apprenticeship and Certification Act (ACA) was implemented in 2000 and covers the trades in the Motive Power, Industrial and Service sectors. The ACA is based on competence rather than putting in a set number of hours on the job. If the apprentice is able to demonstrate the mastering of a certain skill set, as defined by the program, he/she can advance. The TQAA is based on hours on the job.

What's the difference between restricted and unrestricted trades? Compulsory vs. Voluntary?.

Under the TQAA, "compulsory" means that you must be a certified journeyperson or a registered apprentice in order to work in that trade. In the TQAA, only nine trades (out of 32) are compulsory. Some examples are Electrician, Hoisting Engineer, Sheet Metal Worker and Steamfitter. Under the ACA, "restricted" means that you must be a certified journeyperson or be a registered apprentice in order to work in that trade. Examples include Hairstylist, Alignment and Brake Technician, Motorcycle Mechanic and Truck & Coach Technician. The other trades are called "voluntary" in the TQAA and "unrestricted" in the ACA. This means that you don't need to be certified or be an apprentice in order to work in the trade. Some examples include Horticultural Technician, Baker, Carpenter, Welder and Tool and Die Maker.

What's the difference between "regulated" and "non-regulated"?

If a trade is regulated, it means the trade is "Restricted" or "Compulsory". See above question for definitions.

What does "Red Seal" mean?

Certain trades are designated Red Seal trades. If you obtain a mark of 70% on the interprovincial standards examination, your certification is valid in any province or territory in Canada that recognizes the Red Seal designation for that occupation.

I've already been working in this field. Can that count toward my apprenticeship?

Your MTCU representative will assess the situation and give you credit if possible.

Do I need to be experienced in the trade before I start apprenticing?

No. Experience will definitely help while looking for an employer or sponsor and will also help in your research to find the trade that is right for you; however, experience is not necessary. Many apprentices start "cold".

How can I prepare myself to become a successful apprentice?

Do your research and explore all your options. Talk to people already doing the job. Ask them what you could do to help prepare yourself. Are there courses you could take? Volunteer work you could do? Experience and skills gained either through employment or a hobby will also help show prospective employers your capabilities and interest in the apprenticeship. Have you got your resume up to date, your interview skills polished? If you're still in high school, important courses include English, mathematics and science. Shop or tech courses are helpful, as are co-op placements.

How long is the training period?

Most apprenticeship programs last from two to four years, though some are only one year and some are five; Typically, about 90% of the time is spent on-the-job; about 10% is classroom education at an approved centre. Apprentices are assessed when they register with the MTCU and prior learning or experience may sometimes shorten the length of the program.

Do I have to go school to be an apprentice? How long do I have to go to school for?

You must attend a school or a training centre for the in school portion of your training. The time in school varies; could be night school throughout the year, or "block release", which is full-time and can last up to several months. The typical in-school training portion is three to eight week sessions. Some trades may offer courses over the internet. However, in certain circumstances, apprentices can "fast track" and skip or reduce the number of in-school hours. If you have already taken a related program at college or university and you can prove you know the material already, your MTCU representative will assess the situation and give you credit if possible.

Where can I do the training?

There are a number of training centers throughout the province. For some trades, there are several options, while for others there may be only one centre. If you don't live near a training centre, you will need to temporarily relocate to attend the training. Sometimes, the college or training centre may be able to help you find accommodation.

Can any employer take on an apprentice?

An employer must be approved by MTCU. The employer must show the ability to provide proper training - for instance, certified journeyperson to apprentice ratios set by MTCU must be in place.

Does it cost an employer anything to take on an apprentice?

Not in terms of initial cash outlay. The employer must be willing to pay a worker while he/she learns how to do the job and will continue to be learning for a couple of years. The employer will also be without the labor of the apprentice while he/she attends in school training. In this regard, an apprenticeship represents an investment by the employer or sponsor. But employers realize that taking on apprentices is not so much a cost but just that - an investment in the future of their industries.

Does the government provide any supports or incentives to me as an apprentice?

Yes, the Ontario government provides a number of supports for people entering and continuing through an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship training is a combination of on-the-job learning and in-class instruction. Apprentices are workers and earn a salary for the work they do. Their salary increases in step with their increased knowledge and skills. A $40 fee is required to register as an apprentice, however no fee is charged if you are participating in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.

Through the Loans for Tools program, the government will provide you with up to $800 to help purchase the tools of the trade that you will use on the job. More information on this program is available on the Employment Ontario website. The Apprenticeship Incentive Grant is available to registered first and second year apprentices in designated Red Seal trades. Find out if you are eligible for the $1,000 grant by visiting the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program website.

In addition, the 2004 Ontario Budget announced the creation of fifteen hundred new $1,000 scholarships that are available to young people (16-24 years of age). To be eligible, you must be working in a trade, you must obtain your grade 12 diploma, and the employer must register you as an apprentice. For details, visit the Employment Ontario website.

Fees for in-class instruction are typically between $400 and $600 for eight or 12 weeks of instruction, which represents about 20 per cent of the actual cost of classroom instruction. There may be additional insurance fees due at registration, contact the training provider for details.

A fee of $100 is also required to write the Certification of Qualification exam. Talk with a ministry training consultant to learn about the incentive and fees for the skilled trade in which you want to apprentice.

How do I get registered as an apprentice?

First of all, an apprentice has to be employed by a company participating in the apprenticeship program. In addition to the usual ways of finding that type of job - looking through job ads in newspapers and word-of-mouth - you can also contact your local Employment Service Resource Centre. These centers - located in communities across Ontario - build strong networks with local employers and can help match you with a potential employer in your area. To find the centre closest to you, call 1-800-387-5656 or visit www.edu.gov.on.ca.

If you are a high school student, you should contact your guidance counselor and ask about the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). This program gives high school students, beginning in Grade 10, a head start by allowing them to begin their apprenticeship while still in school. If you are about to graduate from high school, you may be interested in one of the new college co-op diploma apprenticeship programs that allow you to obtain your apprenticeship certificate and a related college diploma at the same time. Once you find employment, your employer will contact the local apprenticeship office to arrange for a meeting with a Training Consultant who will outline how the program works and then help you take steps to register as an apprentice. Throughout your apprenticeship, you will be working with a coach or mentor that will assist you in learning the skills of your trade.

As an apprentice, what are my responsibilities?

The responsibilities of an apprentice will be discussed in detail when you first meet with the Training Consultant to register. In general, the apprentice is responsible for:

  • Reviewing the Training Standard with the supervisor on a regular basis to ensure the completed Training Units are "signed off" by you and your supervisor;
  • Keeping an accurate record of the hours you have worked as an apprentice; and if for some reason you leave your employer in mid-program, obtaining a letter from your employer confirming the number of apprenticeship hours that you have worked.
  • For the in-class portion of the program, you must immediately confirm your attendance by phone or mail to the college or designated trainer and pay a fee to confirm you place in class when you receive the "Notice to Attend School" advisory; or if you decide not to attend this in-class session, you must contact your local office to reschedule the session.

In addition, you should contact your local apprenticeship office if:

  • You have a change of mailing address;
  • You are unable to complete all the Training Units in the Training Standard with your employer or sponsor;
  • You begin working for a different employer or sponsor;
  • Your plans to attend the in-class portion of your training have changed;
  • You have concerns regarding your readiness for the in-class portion of your training.

Definitions

Apprenticeship and Certification Act (ACA): the government act applying to apprenticeship in the automotive, service and industry sectors. This includes restricted and unrestricted trades.

Apprenticeship Training Standards or Schedules of Training: these booklets outline the skills training objectives or competencies that are to be learned on the job. The employer or sponsor signs the relevant section of the training standard to indicate the progress of the apprentice.

Restricted Trade: may only be practiced by certified journeypersons or registered apprentices. Students may not perform any restricted skill set until they become a registered apprentice. Some examples are alignment and brakes technician, hairstylist, transmission technician, truck and coach technician.

Certificate of Apprenticeship: the document showing that an apprentice has successfully completed his/her apprenticeship.

Certification of Qualification: this document is obtained when a written exam is completed and passed with a mark of at least 70%. It identifies a journeyperson.

Compulsory Trades: are those trades which only an apprentice or a certified journeyperson may practice. Examples are electrician, plumber, hoisting engineer.

Contract of Apprenticeship or Registered Training Agreement: the contract of apprenticeship which is signed before the apprenticeship begins. This is the agreement under which the employer or sponsor agrees to train and instruct the apprentice. It involves the apprentice, the employer, and the Training Consultant from MTCU. In accordance with legislation, each training agreement is an individualized contract or training plan between the apprentice and the training sponsor or employer.

Journeyperson: the title of a worker once both the apprenticeship and the written exam have been successfully completed.

Red Seal Program: enforces inter-provincial standards and allows tradespersons within certain trades to work in different provinces without rewriting certification exams.

Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act (TQAA): the government act that applies to approximately 30 construction trades. The TQAA covers compulsory and voluntary trades.

Unrestricted Trade: may be practiced without entering into a formal apprenticeship or earning a Certificate of Qualification.

Voluntary Trades: are those which a person can participate in without entering into a formal apprenticeship. You do not have to be licensed to work in the trade.

Apprenticeship Information Websites

For more information on apprenticeships visit edu.gov.on.ca or call 1-800-387-5656.