Contractors on federal projects will soon be asked, on a voluntary basis, to provide information about how many apprentices they plan to use, reports the Canadian Construction Association (CCA).
The Canadian government stated in its 2013 Economic Action Plan it would begin to explore how it can promote apprenticeship use on federal projects.
The plan outlined “three pillars of action” to create apprentice opportunities across Canada, which consisted of promoting education in high-demand fields, reducing barriers to apprentice accreditation and supporting the use of apprentices by employers through federal procurement policies.
Key among the federal procurement policy tools that were entertained was mandating arbitrary apprentice quotas on federal construction contracts.
The potential idea was an issue of concern among Canadian engineering and construction firms.
In recent months, CCA has received confirmation that a mandated use of apprentices will not occur, said Bill Ferreira, CCA’s director of government relations and public affairs.
“They will collect information,” he explained.
“So, anyone working on a federal contract will be asked to provide, on a voluntary basis, the number of apprentices they plan to use on the contract.”
This voluntary information gathering should help the federal government better understand exactly how many apprentices it already possibly has working on federally funded projects.
Currently, such baseline information does not exist, explained CCA.
Jason Kenney, Canada’s employment and social development minister, recently said at the Canadian Apprenticeship’s Forum Skilled Trades Summit that the federal government is trying to find “a reasonable middle ground” when it comes to hiring apprentices on federal construction projects.
“Small contractors that have just a handful of employees in the province of Ontario with the current apprenticeship ratios, they might not be able to bid on a project if we absolutely require they have apprentices,” he said.
Kenney said he looked forward to working with construction associations on the issue.
He added that with about $40-billion in federal infrastructure projects expected he would “love to see all those projects have apprentices involved.”
The Canadian government also demonstrated its willingness to tackle apprenticeships in its 2014 budget with the creation of the Canada Apprentice Loan.
This program offers interest-free loans to help registered apprentices in Red Seal trades with the cost of their training.
Apprentices registered in their first Red Seal trade apprenticeship will be able to apply for loans of up to $4,000 per period of technical training.
Both CCA members and other construction industry stakeholders have argued before that improved employer apprenticeship tax credits and a better understanding of the national apprenticeship landscape are essential if the federal government intends to promote apprentice use on federal projects.
Construction contractors have also been steadfast in their arguments that the use of apprentices is often determined by the type of project and the complexities involved.
The United Kingdom has active promotion of apprenticeships in their federal contracts and in Australia there is a full reporting and compliance model requiring apprentices on their federal projects.
In Canada, New Brunswick has a provincial target, set in consultation with construction, of at least 10 per cent on contracts but there is no compliance model.