Harmonization needed for Red Seal apprentices

Inconsistencies still exist across Canada for apprenticeship requirements.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
by Jeff Lekstrom

Established in 1952, the Interprovincial Red Seal Program was developed to form a common set of standards for designated trades and now represents the Canadian standard of excellence for skilled trades. The program was also intended to enhance the mobility of individual tradespersons certified by various provinces and territories. It’s a good model of labour mobility for tradespersons, pre-dating the Agreement on Internal Trade. And although the Red Seal Program encourages harmonization by developing common interprovincial standards and examinations, inconsistencies exist in provincial/territorial apprenticeship training and certification requirements. This means that Red Seal trades harmonization for apprentices has yet to be fully realized in Canada.

As a tradesperson for most of my life, I’ve had a lot of personal experience trying to move across borders with my trade. All my training to become a welder was done in B.C., but living near the B.C.-Alberta border in the early 1980s, I was keen to venture into Alberta and later Saskatchewan to take advantage of construction job opportunities there. Once I became a Red Seal certified welder in 1984, the process of moving between provinces for work became so much easier. Since then, my Red Seal has given me the opportunity to work all over the world, from India to Indonesia.

The Industry Training Authority (ITA), working with the government of British Columbia, is constantly seeking to improve the pathway that apprentices take toward certification and the benefits they realize once certified. Improving this experience for apprentices helps ITA’s mandate to increase the number of apprentices entering the skilled trades and ultimately becoming Red Seal certified. A key to upgrading and modernizing the Red Seal pathway is enabling mobility – ensuring that apprentices have the option to travel to other provinces and territories to work and receive the training they need to complete their apprenticeship. Since the spirit of Red Seal certification is harmonization of trades skills across jurisdictions, it makes sense that the path that apprentices take towards this certification should also be harmonized across jurisdictions.

Currently, apprentices who wish to move to another province or territory to continue or complete their training are often unable to do so due to different training programs in each jurisdiction. National apprenticeship stakeholders have recognized these issues and have been consistently calling for the harmonization of jurisdictional apprenticeship training and certification requirements to encourage labour mobility and the employability of apprentices and journeypersons.

We are not there just yet, but we will be very soon.

Since 2013, ITA, along with other provincial stakeholders, has been working to implement the Pan-Canadian Apprenticeship Mobility Protocol, which lays out the agreements and rules by which all provinces and territories will recognize apprentices from other jurisdictions. With the knowledge that this was coming, ITA has been proactively recognizing apprentice levels from other jurisdictions at “face value” in B.C. since April 2014, and helping each apprentice to identify any training that they may have missed so they can work with a new employer here in B.C. to gap-train on the job.

The Forum of Labour Market Ministers (FLMM) Pan-Canadian Harmonization Initiative, through the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA), will ultimately drive the harmonization of apprenticeship training across Canada. We are consulting industry training stakeholders in B.C. to make sure that they are fully versed in Pan-Canadian harmonization initiatives and that they are prepared to support implementation measures for B.C. Some of the key alignment deliverables for harmonization we can expect to see include trade names, total training hours (on and off the job), training levels, and sequencing of training content.

A great example of harmonization in action is the agreement that was finalized in January 2016 between B.C. and Nova Scotia to enhance partnerships across the shipbuilding and marine industries. This agreement will increase mobility for apprentices, improve the sharing of labour market information, and promote innovation and participation in the sector’s trades.

On July 16, 2015, Canada’s Premiers signed the Provincial-Territorial Apprentice Mobility Protocol, establishing a framework to facilitate apprentice mobility to pursue jobs anywhere in Canada without interruption to their continuum of training. ITA and the government of British Columbia are now continuing to build on the mobility of apprentices by aiming for B.C. to support the harmonization of four Red Seal trades by September 2016 (Phase I), three more in March 2017 (Phase I), and an additional eight in September 2017 (Phase II).

Targeted trades for Phase I include ironworker generalist, ironworker reinforcing, mobile crane operator and tower crane operator, carpenter, metal fabricator and welder. Phase II targeted trades include plumber, automotive service technician, construction electrician, industrial electrician, millwright, steamfitter/pipefitter, truck/transport mechanic, and heavy duty equipment technician. Our shared goal with the CCDA and other provincial stakeholders is that by September 2017, 66 per cent of apprentices in Red Seal trades across the country will be harmonized, and that 90 per cent will be harmonized by 2020.

The harmonization of trades for apprentices is an important step not just for B.C., but for all of Canada. The steps we’re taking now will ensure a stronger and more efficient skills training system for the future.

Jeff Lekstrom, ITA chief operating officer, is responsible for ITA’s customer service, industry relations, training delivery, Aboriginal initiatives and program standards activities.

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