Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training key to introducing youth to trades

Builder On Site Looking At Digital Tablet With Apprentices

By Richard Lyall

To get more young people into the skilled trades in construction, it is imperative that we educate them at an early age about the myriad well-paying career opportunities that are available.

Many youths have no desire to go to college or university and may prefer to pursue a career in the trades which will enable them to earn while they learn and pick up valuable skills to last a lifetime. Others may go through post-secondary education, only to find out it wasn’t their passion.

There will be plenty of jobs to fill in the trades, so it is critical that we end the stigma associated with the tools and make sure young people know early on in life that it’s a viable career option.

If they’re interested, students should be allowed to chart their own course. A skilled trades job path and career must be respected as much as a university path.

Labour force gap

BuildForce Canada indicates that for the industry to address the housing supply gap of 3.5 million housing units this decade over and above what it normally builds, the residential construction sector will need to grow its labour force by 83 per cent above 2023 levels – to just under 1.04-million workers.

The non-residential construction sector, which builds infrastructure such as roads and sewers, will need to expand its labour force by an additional 19 per cent above 2023 levels, the agency forecasts.

However, the development of skilled trades in the construction industry typically takes years. It is vital to have new recruits in the pipeline to avoid skills gaps. There must be an ongoing commitment to apprenticeship development to ensure a sufficient number of trades.

Which brings me back to my point.

Programs and strategies 

Recruitment of new apprentices is an ongoing challenge, so we must make sure young people are aware of career paths on the tools.

To encourage more participation in the trades from youth, we must keep pushing programs and strategies that encourage them to consider the skilled trades as a career option.

In Ontario, we might be seeing the start of that change.

The provincial government has unveiled a new fast-track plan that is scheduled to start this fall for teens who want a trades career. Secondary school students who want a career in the trades will be able to spend up to 80 per cent of their time on training and 20 per cent on academics.

The idea is that the initiative will make it easier for teens to transition into the trades amid the shortage.

Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training program

Known as the Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training program, the venture builds on the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. It will allow students in Grades 11 and 12 to participate in apprenticeship learning through co-operative education credits while completing high school.

Between eight and 11 credits can be earned from the trades training through co-op placements. Students will still have to earn mandatory math and English credits in Grade 11, and English in Grade 12.

The program will run for two to five years. Those who finish their apprenticeships will be able to apply to graduate high school as mature students.

Graduates will receive a seal on their Ontario Secondary School Diploma to signify their successful completion of the program and recognize them for their dedication to learning in the skilled trades.

The new stream was included in the Working for Workers Act, 2024. Students will be able to take part in apprenticeship training in 144 trades.

The program will literally put students in the driver’s seat and encourage more youth to graduate who might otherwise not do so.

The program is a win-win for both the students and province. Importantly, it recognizes the significance of letting students know about the skilled trades while also ensuring they remain connected to their school. Those who are interested are put on a fast-track to a career in the trades while completing their education, and the province gets more apprentices.

At first, some critics panned the idea, arguing that teens will miss out on fundamental learning in math or English. However, the government listened to their suggestions during consultations and set requirements for mandatory math and English courses, satisfying the critics.

While the initiative won’t solve the skilled trades shortage entirely, it will help. We will still rely on immigration – as we have done in the past – to bring in skilled workers for the construction industry, especially those with specialized skill sets who work in the residential construction sector.

According to BuildForce, the construction industry across Canada is expected to be short 85,500 workers by 2033. The new initiative will help but we still have much work to do.

Richard Lyall

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at