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Understanding the Apprenticeship System
The apprenticeship system is a model of training that teaches the skills and competencies necessary to work in a skilled trade. It consists of both on-the-job training in industry and technical training. The individual receiving this training is called an “apprentice.”
It is estimated that between 80% to 85% of all apprenticeship training occurs with the employer on the job site, and the remaining 15% to 20% is technical training with an approved training provider. Generally, the apprenticeship makes up the largest component of trades training systems in most developed countries, and this model is rapidly being adopted by many developing nations.
An apprenticeship is an agreement between an apprentice (individual), an employer, and the authority responsible for trades training, and it outlines the obligations of all three parties. The fourth often unwritten partner to the apprenticeship is the person who provides the technical training. In general, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the paid apprentice works under the supervision of a certified journeyperson who provides the apprentice with on-the- job training and mentorship in their trade. The employer is also responsible for meeting a set of conditions, including ensuring that the apprentice is officially registered with their province or territory, recognizing that further technical training is integral to the apprenticeship program, and tracking and reporting of all time spent on the job site to the relevant authority. The majority of skilled trades have three to four levels of technical training, and an apprenticeship usually lasts between three and six years. Depending on the circumstances, an apprentice may also work for more than one employer during their apprenticeship.
The role of the organization responsible for trades training and certification varies depending on the country. In Canada, trades training and certification are the responsibility of individual provinces and territories, so in effect there are 13 different trades training systems. While there are many similarities between the systems, there are also many differences based on the needs of the individual province or territory.
There are over 300 different trades in Canada; however, not all are recognized (certified) or taught in each province and territory. The majority of skilled trades fall into four different sectors: construction, transportation, manufacturing, and services. Over 40% of all skilled trades workers in Canada are in construction trades, which include electricians, carpenters, plumbers, pipefitters, and welders, to name a few.
In addition to each province and territory having its own trades system, Canada also has a standard of excellence called the “Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program.” Through this program, tradespersons obtain an endorsement on their provincial/territorial certificates by successfully completing an interprovincial exam in or following the final year of their technical training. This endorsement makes it easier for journeyed trades workers to move between provinces/territories and employers. In 2012, over 360 000 apprentices were registered in apprenticeship programs, and over 77% of these individuals were working in one of the 57 Red Seal trades (Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, 2014).
Exploring trades training
If you are considering going into a trade, it is important to understand what the job is all about. The anticipated shortage of skilled trades workers in Canada has resulted in the creation of numerous websites, videos, and brochures dedicated exclusively to learning about careers in the trades.
Another way to learn about trades programs is to contact your local trades training provider and find out what is available for you. Many colleges that offer trades training also offer short exploratory programs into the various trades they teach at their institution, or special initiatives such as entry-level Indigenous Peoples Trades Training, and Women in the Trades. They also offer information sessions, campus visits, or opportunities to talk one-on-one with an instructor or student in a specific trade. Check out the website of your local training provider or call them to get more information.
Many high schools also offer exploration into trades training, dual-credential programming, and student apprenticeship programming—along with opportunities for visits to local educational institutions and assistance with career programming.
If there is an industry that you’d really like to get into, you might also want to contact an employer or meet with individuals already working in that career to find out first-hand what working in the trade is like—both the rewards and challenges. This can provide you with a better overview of what to expect.
The following are just a few resources you should look at to further explore trades training.
- Careers in Trades
- BC Industry Training Authority—Youth Page
- BC Industry Training Authority—Trade Programs
- BC Industry Training Authority – Women in Trades
- BC Industry Training Authority – Indigenous Peoples in Trades
- Skills/Compétences Canada
- BC Centre for Women In The Trades
- Trades Training BC
- Supports and Resources: BC Industry Training Authority
- Skills Exploration 10-12: BC Industry Training Authority [PDF]
- It’s Your Life: Explore a Career in the Resource Trades
- Apprentice Guidebook: BC Industry Training Authority [PDF]
- Trades Guide: BC Industry Training Authority [PDF]
- Trades Apprenticeship Information: BC Industry Training Authority [PDF]
Jurisdictional training authorities
In addition to researching the trades certified in your own province, you might want to look at those trades that are recognized in other provinces and territories. The following is a list of all organizations responsible for trades training in Canada:
- Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training
- BC Industry Training Authority (ITA)
- Apprenticeship Manitoba
- New Brunswick – Apprenticeship and Occupational Certification
- Newfoundland and Labrador – Apprenticeship and Trades Certification
- Northwest Territories – Apprenticeship, Trades, and Occupation Certification
- Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency
- Nunavut – Training and Apprenticeship Opportunities
- Ontario College of Trades
- Prince Edward Island—Workforce and Advanced Training
- Emploi Quebec
- Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission
- Yukon – Education and Schools
Trades Training in British Columbia
In British Columbia, the Industry Training Authority (ITA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the skilled trades training and credentialling system. The ITA also provides support and customer service to apprentices, employers, and industry. It sets program standards, maintains credential records, and issues the highly regarded Red Seal and Certificate of Qualifications. British Columbia is one of the few provinces that use the Interprovincial Red Seal exam as their final level exam for specific trades.
It is well worth your time to check out the ITA website with its vast amount of available information. For each trade that is certified in the province, there is information on the program, interprovincial exams, the process for recognizing prior learning experience, and current jobs available in the specific field in British Columbia.
You can also look at the detailed program outline for a trade by conducting a simple search on the ITA website using the name of the trade and the words “program outline.” The detailed outline lists line by line all competencies required for each level of the training program.
Essential Skills and Trades Training
The Government of Canada (and many other nations) recognizes nine essential skills as being integral to creating a competitive and productive workforce. These skills are used in different combinations and levels for every occupation, and they are the foundation that you need to learn other new skills.
The nine essential skills are:
- document use
- numeracy (math and working with numbers)
- oral communication
- working with others
- digital technology (formerly computer skills)
- continuing learning
While most people possess some of these skills, they may not possess the combination of skills at the level required to succeed or excel in the job they are performing or would like to get into. As well, like any skill, if you don’t use it, your performance may be less than expected on the job.
Three of these essential skills have been identified as being critical to success in technical trades training, namely:
- numeracy (math and working with numbers)
- document use
You may wonder what essential skills have to do with you and why it is so important to make sure that your skills, particularly in these three areas, are at the required level before you begin your technical training. Studies show that apprentices with the required essential skills levels:
- are eight times more likely to pass their technical exams
- are likely to make more money on the job
- learn faster and are more likely to enjoy their job
- are less likely to injure themselves or others at work
Read the following documents to find out why essential skills are so important in the trades:
There are numerous types of standardized formal and informal assessments to determine the levels of your essential skills in these three areas. In British Columbia, you can take the free online assessment that the ITA has created to determine your current level of essential skills.
Once you complete the assessment, the system will generate a report for you that compares your results to the requirements for the trade you are interested in. It also provides you with information on how to improve your performance in specific areas where needed. You may log on to this site on your own or through your training organization or employer.
After you’ve had the time to work on some of your skill areas, retake the test and see if you have improved.
Other provinces have similar essential skills assessments that you can access online or in print.
How to Start an Apprenticeship, and Registration
Finding an apprenticeship has a lot to do with your personal connections and your ability to be proactive and look for possible industry sponsors. It may be easier for individuals with family and friends in the trades to leverage these connections, but even if you don’t have this advantage you can still actively look for a potential sponsor. The following are a few ideas on how to find an industry sponsor:
- Remember that in this period of skilled labour shortages many employers are actively looking for individuals to take on as apprentices. This matching service may also help you:
- Do your research. Find out what companies in your area hire apprentices in your field. Call and ask to meet with someone from the company or talk to them over the phone to find out what they are looking for in an apprentice and if they are aware of any upcoming openings in the company. Be prepared before you contact an employer. They are often very busy and knowing the questions you’d like to ask ahead of time goes a long way to showing that you are respectful of their time. If you set a date or time to meet with an employer, be prompt and always remember to send a thank-you note or email afterwards to acknowledge the time they have given you. Remember to take notes during these conversations so that you can follow up on any leads or contact the company and individual again at a later date.
- A number of trades programs don’t require you to have an industry sponsor to complete the initial levels of training. These programs are known by a number of different names, including Foundation, Pre-Apprenticeship, and Apprenticeship (no industry sponsor). In these types of programs, the training institution takes on the role of an industry sponsor and the additional hours students spend in the shops under the supervision of their instructors (all journeymen) count toward their required apprenticeship hours. Upon successful completion, many of these programs provide the equivalency of Level 1 of apprenticeship training. For more information on these programs visit:
You can also find out where these programs are offered in British Columbia’s public post- secondary education providers by visiting:
- If you are in a Foundation program, take advantage of every opportunity to meet with potential sponsors and find out more about their needs for apprenticeships. It is important to keep in mind that when you are in a Foundation program, your instructor is taking on the role of a journeyperson and training and evaluating your practical work in the same way as would be done in industry. This training is recognized as work experience and counts toward the hours required for your apprenticeship. It also provides you with equivalency to a level of apprenticeship training in most trades. Your program may also offer work experience in industry. Often, employers in search of new apprentices will visit training institutions or let your instructors know that they are looking for new apprentices.
- Keep current. Trades are a hot topic in the news, print, and online, and new or existing companies’ training needs are often the source of stories and may provide you with additional leads.
Once you have an apprenticeship lined up, the most important thing to do is register with the ITA (or the provincial/territorial counterpart outside of BC). To do so you need information on your industry sponsor as well as your own contact information. You can complete the necessary paperwork online or do it manually and mail it in.
Apprenticeship Roles and Responsibilities
The role of the apprentice is to:
- Read and make sure that they understand all of the requirements of their specific trade.
- Keep an ongoing dialogue with the journeyperson responsible for their training and any other individuals assisting with their apprenticeship to make sure they are getting feedback on their performance, including their strengths and areas where improvement can be made.
- Meet with their employer to discuss and determine the best time to arrange for technical training each year for the length of their apprenticeship. In general, most trades have three or four levels of apprenticeship training. Remember that technical training opportunities may be very limited. If possible, register ahead of time for the next two to three years of technical training so that you know that your place has been reserved. Also keep in mind that technical training for some trades may be available from a limited number of training suppliers and are not necessarily located in the city where you live.
You may need to make plans to travel to another city to complete your apprenticeship training. If you have family or other commitments, it may require some time and effort on your part to make the necessary arrangements ahead of time. Advance planning will help reduce your stress level and make you better prepared to complete your training.
- Keep track of their hours on the job by monitoring the record in the ITA database and bringing to the employer’s attention any discrepancies. On average, employers will update an apprentice’s record every 6 to 12 months.
The role of the employer/sponsor is to:
- Teach the apprentice the skills required for the trade under the supervision of a certified journeyperson or other qualified individual as approved by the ITA.
- Provide the apprenticeship with mentorship and constructive feedback on their performance.
- Work with the apprentice to determine the best time to schedule their technical training each year.
- Track the apprentice’s hours and report them every 6 to 12 months. If there are any discrepancies, they must review them with the apprentice and make any changes as necessary.
- Recommend the apprentice for certification when all of their program requirements are complete (technical training certification and hours of experience).
The role of the ITA is to:
- Manage BC’s industry trades training and certification system, and work with employers, employees, industry, labour, training providers, and governments to increase opportunities in the trades. This includes:
- managing apprenticeships, setting program standards, issuing credentials, and increasing opportunities in the trades
- providing information and assistance online, by phone, or in person to apprentices, employers, and other individuals and organizations associated with trades training
- registering apprentices and employer/sponsors, maintaining apprentice records, overseeing exams and assessments, and funding training at public and private institutions
- setting standards for skilled trades training programs, training provider requirements, and for challenging certification (when work hours and experience count toward certification)
The role of the training provider is to:
- Teach the apprentices according to the competencies detailed in the program description for their program.
- Provide apprentices with feedback on their performance and prepare them to take the level exams or Interprovincial Red Seal exam at the end of their level of technical training.
- Work with employers as required to assist in registering and scheduling apprentices for their programs.
Scheduling Your Technical Training
The following are tips on how to schedule your technical training:
- Work with your employer to identify the best periods in which to take your technical training. This will ensure that your employer has sufficient employees on site or can make alternate arrangements to get the additional staff needed. Since larger employers may have numerous apprentices, planning will also allow them to stagger technical training across the year.
- Find out ahead of time if any financial support will be coming from your employer. You may have discussed this at your time of hire, and you may need to revisit it.
- Try to schedule multiple years of technical training at the onset. The availability of technical training can be very limited in some programs, and your ability to schedule multiple years of training will allow you to complete longer-range plans.
- Remember that you may have to travel to take your training. Find out where the various approved training providers are for your program so that you can consider this issue when you discuss your training with your employer, family, and friends. It will also allow you to prepare for any additional financial costs with studying away from home or any arrangements you may need to make if you have a family to support.
- Try to keep on schedule with training. For each year of your apprenticeship you should be doing one level of training. If you fall off schedule, try to get back on as soon as possible.
- If you’ve changed your employer/sponsor, make sure all the paperwork necessary is completed with the ITA prior to starting your next level of technical training.
- If you haven’t scheduled your technical training and need to as soon as possible, check with the potential training providers and see if they can add you to a waitlist for upcoming training. You may be provided with only a few days’ warning before a place opens up, so make sure that you’ve discussed this with your employer and any other individuals who would be affected by your quick departure from the job site or home if training is out of town.
- Do your homework and prepare financially for your studies and be aware of the different sources of funding that can assist you during your technical training and how and when to apply for them.
Financial Support for Training
Access to financial support is often an integral part of a decision to pursue further education.
It’s important to know the sources of funding that may be available to you. Remember to think outside the box to find all of the different funding sources that may be available to you and your particular circumstances.
Two very good starting points to look at for funding available for trades training in British Columbia are the Trades Training BC site and the provincial government’s Apprenticeship Training support page:
Different types of trades training are eligible for different types of support. For example, longer- term Pre-Apprentice or Foundation trades training at a community college may be eligible for regular provincial student loan programs as well as institutionally specific scholarships and bursaries. While apprentices are not eligible for these resources, they are eligible for other types of support, including employment insurance during their studies.
Apprentices should also find out if their employers offer any kind of training support. If you did not discuss this at the time of hiring, ask your employer now if any kind of professional development funds are available and can be used toward your studies. Depending on your employer, this can range from no financial support to full financial support, covering the costs of your studies and textbooks upon successful completion of your program. In addition, some employers also link successful completion of an apprenticeship level to an increase in salary or a bonus, so it is worth finding out this information from your employer ahead of time.
High school students entering a trade may also be eligible for prizes and scholarships that they can use toward their post-secondary studies. Check with your school to find out what is available.
Occasionally, there are also federal and provincial initiatives that support trades training for individuals meeting specific criteria. The trades training department of your local institution can advise you of any initiatives that may currently be available and let you know if you satisfy the eligibility criteria.
Apprentice Interprovincial Mobility
There are apprentice mobility protocols and agreements in place between the provinces that enable apprentices to pursue jobs anywhere in Canada without interruption to their continuum of training.
This mobility option was made possible as a result of the Harmonization Initiative launched in 2013 to substantively align apprenticeship systems across Canada by making training requirements more consistent. As part of this work, the Canadian Council of the Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) identified four main harmonization priorities in consultation with industry and training stakeholders:
- Use of Red Seal trade name
- Consistent total training hours (in-school and on-the-job)
- Same number of training levels
- Consistent sequencing of training content at each training level
Now complete the Learning Task Self-Test.
- The apprenticeship system is a model of training that teaches the skills and competencies necessary to work in a skilled trade.
- An apprenticeship consists of on-the-job training only.
- What is the estimated percentage of the training of apprentices that occurs on the job site?
- 50% to 70%
- 75% to 80%
- 80% to 85%
- 90% to 100%
- What percentage of apprenticeship training is theoretical and takes place with a training provider/trades school?
- 45% to 50%
- 35% to 40%
- 25% to 30%
- 15% to 20%
- Apprenticeship training makes up the largest part of the trades training system in Canada.
- Within which jurisdiction does Canadian trades training fall?
- Private accreditation bureaus and unions
- Combination of federal and provincial/territorial
- How many different trades are there in Canada (though not all are recognized, certified, or taught in each province and territory)?
- Over 300
- Within which four sectors do the majority of trades fall?
- Services, fabrication, construction, and manufacturing
- Construction, transportation, heavy duty, and hospitality
- Construction, services, manufacturing, and transportation
- Manufacturing, construction, telecommunications, and electrical
- There are many free sources of information on trades training available in Canada.
- The Industry Training Authority (ITA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the skilled trades training and credentialling system in British Columbia.
- There are 11 essential skills recognized by the Government of Canada.
- Essential skills are used in different combinations and levels for every occupation, and they are the foundation skills you need in order to learn new skills.
- Which of the following are considered essential skills?
- Reading, document use, numeracy
- Writing, oral communication, working with others
- Digital technology, thinking, and continuous learning
- All of the above
- What are the three skills that have been identified as critical to being successful in technical trades training?
- Reading, numeracy, and document use
- Math, thinking, and continuous learning
- Reading, listening, and working with others
- Document use, math, and manual dexterity
- In addition to formal assessments, there are numerous essential skills self-assessments available on the Web.
- Apprenticeships are found for trades apprentices by the trades training provider.
- Once you have found an apprenticeship, it is important that you and your employer register with the ITA (in British Columbia) or your provincial/territorial equivalent.
- Which of the following is not included as part of an apprenticeship?
- Complete technical training
- Working directly under a journeyperson (or equivalent)
- Making decisions about which job sites you will work on for your employer
- Keeping track of hours on the job and reporting any discrepancies to your employer
- What is the role of the employer in trades apprenticeships?
- Teach the apprentice skills required for the job, provide supervision, and mentor and recommend apprentices for certification
- Report apprenticeship hours to the ITA every 6 to 12 months and determine the best time for the apprentice to be absent from the company to complete technical training
- All of the above
- None of the above
- What is the principal role of the training provider?
- Teaching apprentices theory and best practices in the shop
- Creating trades programs that align with the National Occupational Analysis
- Creating individual programs that best support the needs of individual learners
- Teaching apprentices based on the ITA’s program outline for their trade, and provide them with feedback
- What is the best way to schedule your future years of technical training?
- Wait until your employer makes the decision and books the training for you.
- Contact the institution of your choice and pre-book all years of training at the time you choose.
- Wait for your training institution to contact you regarding the need to take your next level of training.
- Be proactive and discuss the subsequent levels of technical training needed and how/ when they should be scheduled.
- For most trades there are ample apprenticeship courses offered and you can usually get into the institution of your choice.
- All employers pay the costs of technical training and books.
- It is your responsibility to research the funding available for your apprenticeship training program, complete the necessary applications/forms, and ensure that you have sufficient funding to complete your apprenticeship training.
- A number of trades programs don’t require you to have an industry sponsor to complete the initial levels of training. Which of the following is NOT an example of one of these programs?
- Apprenticeship (no industry sponsor).
See the Answer Key in the back matter of the textbook for self-test answers.
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