MRO Magazine

Fixing apprenticeship problems in the West: Certify specific job skills, report urges

Human Resources

December 14, 2015
By Bill Roebuck

Calgary, AB – Only four in 10 people who enter apprenticeships in Canada finish their programs, leaving hundreds of thousands of people working in trades without a formal credential, the Canada West Foundation revealed in a new report called Building Blocks: Modular Credentials for Canada’s Trades.

The report states the reasons for non-completion of apprenticeships include low wage rates, fear of failure in exams and the fact that some jobs do not need all the skills that will be learned in an apprenticeship program, which typically lasts four years.

“Canada’s trades training system needs rebuilding,” write co-authors Janet Lane, director of the foundation’s Centre for Human Capital Policy, and Jeff Griffiths, principal of the Griffiths Sheppard management consulting firm.

The report finds that not being certified as a journeyperson is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is no way of recognizing competent people who do some tasks very well. There is also no way to determine whether someone who is skilled in one trade can do certain tasks in another.


The report recommends a shift to a “modular, competency-based” approach to trade certification. Under the system, already in place in some countries, people are given credentials for having a certain set of skills — such as tool use and blueprint reading. These individual credentials can be “stacked” together to qualify for different trades.

The modular approach provides assurance to people that they have the skills to do their jobs, delivers skilled workers into the workforce faster and cheaper, gives employers more detail on the tasks people can do, and allows greater mobility — both geographically and between trades.

“Standard credentials don’t mean as much as they used to,” said Lane. “Being able to prove you can actually do the job you are being hired for makes it easier for people to get a job, and for employers to make good hiring decisions.” To shift to this new model, the trades training sector needs to:

– Encourage early adopters of this competency-based approach

– Speed up the “pathways” that allow people to shift between trades

– Work with all stakeholders, including unions, to make the transition

– Develop a nationwide competency framework for the trades.

The Canada West Foundation focuses on the policies that shape the West’s quality of life. The full version of Building Blocks: Modular Credentials for Canada’s Trades, can be downloaded at