Apprenticeship Disconnect: Special meeting seeks methods to get apprentices to class

By Mike Davey

Toronto, Ontario — April 28, 2014 — Enough apprentices are signing up to fill between 10 and 12 Level 1 classes in Ontario, according to John Norris of Collision Industry Information Assistance (CIIA), yet there are only four programs operating across the province. This discrepancy was the major focus at a recent meeting organized by CIIA and the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) to discuss this “apprenticeship disconnect.” 

The meeting took place at the Ontario College of Trades, located at 655 Bay St. in Toronto, Ont., on April 25, 2014. 
David Tsubouchi opened the meeting by thanking the organizers and outlining the meeting’s purpose. Tsubouchi is the Registrar and CEO of the Ontario College of Trades, appointed to the position in September 2013. 
Tsubouchi served as the Progressive Conservative MPP for Markham from 1995 until 2003, held a number of high-level cabinet posts in the Ontario government. During his introductory remarks, Tsubouchi thanked the educators, association representatives, media and OCOT staff in attendance, as well as those who attended the meeting by phone.
“You can’t just meet with shareholders who agree with you,” said Tsubouchi. “You have to meet with those who have opposing views. Our role is as a facilitator for these discussions.”
Tsubouchi was followed by John Norris of CIIA, who outlined the need for the session. 
“We should have about 10 to 12 classes of 22 students, each, but we don’t. We’ve got four, and three of those we’re having to struggle to do,” said Norris, referencing the fact that some programs have had to delay their start or go forward with fewer seats filled. “We’re signing up plenty of apprentices. Why do we see so few going to school.” 
Norris noted that these college programs are a vital link in the chain that produces tomorrow’s technicians. The numbers show that over the last five years, Ontario’s collision repair industry has consistently attracted many apprentices. These apprentices have signed training agreements with repair facilities and begun to learn their trade. 
However, the numbers also show that between 70 and 80 percent of those new apprentices never arrive for their level of apprenticeship training, or complete their training and write the Certificate of Qualification exam. 
Norris believes that a solution to this may be applicable outside of Ontario as well, and representatives of automotive sector groups in Nova Scotia and B.C. participated in the meeting by phone. He also outlined the primary goal: increasing the attendance numbers by at least 30 percent this year and by 50 percent in 2015. 
He then introduced a panel discussion, focused on answering questions from the floor regarding the perceived views of members of industry towards retention issues and apprenticeships, and possible challenges to increasing attendance rates. 
The panel was comprised of members of the industry press, including Mike Davey, Editor of Collision Repair magazine. Questions for the panelists led directly into the general discussion of challenges that contribute to low attendance rates. 
Mike Papoff is an instructor at Fanshawe College. He discussed some of the challenges that he noticed while completing his own apprenticeship. In addition to economic and family concerns, Papoff noted that the times the courses are held may contribute to lower attendance. 
“When I was going for my Level 3, the owner found out that both and I the other apprentice would be out of the shop for January and February,” said Papoff. Since this is often a shop’s busiest time of the year, switching to other months may result in increased attendance. 
Also under discussion were the various grants and incentives available to shops when hiring apprentices, and to apprentices to facilitate their schooling, tool purchases and other expenses. While nothing has been set in stone, several people forwarded the idea that at least some of those grants should be tied to school attendance. 
In addition to identifying the need to change how incentives and grants are awarded, a need for an apprenticeship “road map” was also identified. 
The idea behind the road map is that when you become an apprentice, you actually get a package, from either OCOT or from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, that lays out what an apprentice needs to know,” says Norris. “It will give you the dates to go to school, and a number to call if that’s difficult. It will list the grants and incentives that are available and how to get them, and it will also give apprentices a number to call if they feel they’re being abused. Part of the idea would be to provide it to the employer as well.”
A strong workforce of trained technicians is a definite benefit to the collision repair industry. Providing value to apprentices makes them more valuable as employees, benefiting both themselves and their employers. 
Norris noted that it is the Level 1 courses that are in some ways the most important. 
“Most of the students that complete Level 1 go on to complete Levels 2 and 3,” said Norris. “It might not be immediately, but about 85 percent of students who complete Level 1 will complete the whole program.”
For more information on OCOT, please visit collegeoftrades.ca. More information on this initiative will be forthcoming at ciia.com

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