The owner of Curtis Powerworks in Deer Lake was one of about 20 people who attended a consultation session on how well the current Apprenticeship Wage Subsidy is working for the skilled trades industries.
A mix of employers, skilled-trades instructors and a couple of skilled-trades students attended the session hosted by Advanced Education and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne in Corner Brook Friday.
“We need to talk about apprentices: how we’re going to get them to work and how we’re going to keep them to work,” said Curtis, whose family’s hydroelectricity and communications business employs 75 people and does contract work for the province’s utilities, among other clients.
“These young people are the backbone of our economy.”
Currently, the wage subsidy program covers up to $14 per hour of the wages paid to an apprentice hired to gain experience in their trade. That rate is applied to 90 per cent of the employer’s cost to pay a first-year apprentice, 80 percent of a second-year apprentice’s wages and 60 per cent of the pay earned by third- and fourth-year apprentices.
With the economy slowing down, it has become harder to find work in the skilled-trade industries. Curtis is concerned inexperienced trades students will have a tougher time getting their feet in the doors of workplaces where they could learn from experienced journeypersons on the job.
“We want to make sure we don’t fall into a gap where we end up with no journeypersons down the road when the economy picks up again,” he said.
He would also like to see more of the subsidy made available for the third- and fourth-year apprentices.
“That would help the employer to be encouraged to keep the apprentice on until he finishes his journeyman’s ticket,” he said.
Moving some of the subsidy away from the first- or second-year apprentices may be a problem, given employers would then have to pay more for less experienced workers who may not be as productive for their businesses.
Curtis said the onus is still always on the employers to find ways to hire those aspiring tradespeople with little or no experience.
“Somebody has to take them and train them because everyone started out as a first-year apprentice,” he said.
With an additional $500,000 in federal funding recently added to the program, the total value budgeted for it in 2016-17 now stands at $7.12 million.
Byrne said these consultations are not at all about downsizing the program, but about how its scope can be increased to meet the changing labour market’s needs.
“We have to get it right,” said Byrne. “This is for the benefit of apprentices, but if employers don’t want to participate, find it difficult to participate or it’s not meeting their needs, they aren’t going to hire those apprentices.”
While the focus is on the subsidy program, Byrne said he has welcomed a lot of discussion during consultations so far about revamping the overall apprenticeship training system.
Byrne and his staff will consider what they have heard and look into what modifications to the subsidy program that might be recommended.
How the Apprenticeship Wage Subsidy program is funded:
- The program is funded through two federal-provincial transfer agreements. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Job Fund Agreement provides $3.12 million to assist non-Employment Income-eligible apprentices. The Labour Market Development Agreement contributes $4 million to assist EI-eligible apprentices.
How it works:
— The program provides employers with a wage subsidy up to a maximum of $14 per hour to help offset the cost of hiring apprentices.
— The contribution rate is applied to apprentices, based on their year of experience in the trade, as follows:
• 90 per cent for first-year
• 80 per cent for second-year
• 60 per cent for third- and fourth-year
Source: Department of Advanced Education and Skills