SkillSource explores apprenticeship co-operative training model

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | July 10, 2020

A new project in B.C. aims to explore alternative options for improving historically low trades apprenticeship completion rates which experts believe could worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SkillSource, with support from the Province of B.C. and the Government of Canada, is currently in the early stages of developing an Apprenticeship Cooperative Training (ACT) model. 

Doug MacLaren, CEO of SkillSource, explained under the province’s current model, businesses employ apprentices for a four-year term and provide them with on-the-job training and work experience.

With an ACT model, dedicated ACT organizations serve as the apprentices’ employer and mentor. 

ACT organizations assume responsibility for apprentices’ payroll and benefits and assign them to workplaces on a short-term basis. While businesses would pay a fee to ACT organizations in exchange for apprentice labour, they are not obligated to provide an apprentice’s entire required experience.

MacLaren noted this would be especially beneficial to small- or medium-sized companies that want to have apprentices but are hesitant about the administrative or cost burden required.

Smaller builders, for example, can also have irregular schedules, which makes committing to long-term apprentices even more difficult.

And the pandemic will likely discourage more from taking on apprentices, added MacLaren.

“The challenge right now is that you have to have an employer before you can complete an apprenticeship, but that is getting more difficult. Coming out of the pandemic it is going to extremely difficult when employers will be reluctant to bring on full-time staff, reluctant to increase their labour costs and are unsure about the economy,” he said.   

He believes that makes it a perfect time to explore alternative apprenticeship options and explained the program, which is inspired by parts of Australia’s group training model, has many advantages.

Under the system, apprentices would often end up working for several employers, giving them a better scope of their chosen trade. And rather than being on their own, apprentices have a group trying to usher them to the finish line.

“With the ACT program you would have a third-party helping you complete your apprenticeship,” said MacLaren. “If there are issues in your personal life, academic life or at the workplace, they can help and there is someone trying to get you through to complete things.”

The project began in March. Its research and stakeholder feedback will culminate in a report and recommendations on the model, its governance and sustainability, and will identify locations in which the model should be piloted and evaluated if it moves to the next phase.

According to SkillSource, apprenticeship completion rates in the country are at record lows for most trades with an average of 44 per cent obtaining certification in B.C. between 2016/17 and 2019/20. 

MacLaren encouraged anyone who wants to learn more about how they or their employer can get involved in the project to contact him via email at dmaclaren@skillsourcebc.ca or by phone at 604-328-5452.