National Apprenticeship Survey: Canada Overview Report 2015
Section 1 Introduction

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The 2015 National Apprenticeship Survey (NAS) looked at the experience of apprenticeship training in Canada, including pathways to apprenticeship and the skilled trades, as well as factors influencing completion and certification. This national overview report offers a first look at the data generated by this new survey. The introductory section will briefly review the state of skilled trades and apprenticeship in Canada, describe the 2015 NAS and some of the key issues it addresses, and provide an outline of the contents of this report.

Skilled trades and apprenticeship in Canada

Skilled trades are an important driver of the Canadian economy and affect almost every aspect of life. While the trades may bring to mind a narrow set of occupations—electricians, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, and welders, for example—opportunities in the skilled trades are quite extensive. Many tradespeople work in Canada’s large resource, construction, and manufacturing sectors; the skilled trades are also represented in the hospitality, education, information technology, and tourism sectors, among others. There are more than 300 apprenticeable occupations (i.e., designated trades) in Canada. According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), about 12% of Canadians reported a trade certificate or diploma as their highest level of education, (Statistics Canada 2013). In 2015, 4 million people in Canada worked in skilled-trades occupations, an estimated 22.1% of employed Canadians (Labour Force Survey 2015).

Apprenticeship training is one of the key methods by which people acquire the skills and knowledge needed to become skilled tradespeople. This industry-driven approach blends on-the-job experience with in-school technical training. During a typical apprenticeship, an apprentice’s time is divided between the workplace (80% to 90%) and the classroom (10% to 20%). Apprenticeship falls under provincial / territorial jurisdiction as the provinces and territories are responsible for designating skilled trades, regulating and administering apprenticeship programs as well as certifying tradespeople as journeypersons. Industry and employers play a critical role in the delivery and shaping of apprenticeship training by hiring apprentices and providing them with training and work experience. Colleges, technical schools, unions or private trainers, meanwhile, supply the technical training part of an apprenticeship. This required course work often takes place in classrooms; however, providers are using other forms of curriculum delivery, such as web-based or hybrid online / in-class approaches.

A highly skilled, adaptable, and mobile labour force and a well-functioning labour market are assets for any country. In Canada, the federal government works with the provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) to support the development of a qualified skilled trades workforce. The CCDA manages the interprovincial standards Red Seal ProgramNote 1 and also serves as a forum for intergovernmental collaboration with industry on common matters related to apprenticeship. There are currently 56 Red Seal trades, which include almost 4 out of 5 apprentices.

In Canada, significant investments have been made in apprenticeship through the Red Seal Program, and a variety of financial supports for apprentices have been provided. These include grants, loans, tax credits, and Employment Insurance (EI) benefits during full-time, in-school training. These measures help to support apprentices with the completion of their apprenticeship training programs.

Strong economic growth through much of the period since 2000 and demographic pressures such as workforce aging, have contributed to a robust demand for skilled tradespeople. Even with economic ebbs and flows, industry organizations in Canada forecast significant job openings in the skilled trades over the coming decade (BuildForce 2016; MiHR 2016; Enform 2016). In 2014, there were over 450,000 registered apprentices across Canada (Registered Apprenticeship Information System 2014). Despite a decline following the economic recession in 2008 and 2009, new registrations in apprenticeship programs have increased nearly 200% since the 1990s.

Apprenticeship programs range in duration from two years (in trades such as hairstylist, esthetician, and food and beverage server) to five years (in trades such as construction electrician and plumber in certain jurisdictions). The actual time to completion is somewhat longer (Desjardins and Paquin 2010). An apprentice might not continue an apprenticeship program or take longer to complete it for a number of reasons. In past surveys, not having enough work or income was identified as a key factor, along with difficulties related to employers (e.g., not releasing apprentices for technical training) and essential skills deficits (Cadieux 2010). NAS 2015 results allow further exploration of these issues including the reasons underpinning delayed completion and discontinuation.

Not all demographic groups participate similarly in apprenticeship training. There is notable underrepresentation of some groups, including women and immigrants, while others, such as youth, Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities, experience different challenges. For example, apprenticeship authorities are interested in attracting more youth to apprenticeship training earlier, since the trades are frequently not a first career choice (Deussing 2016). Supporting access to apprenticeship and employment opportunities in the trades is essential to building and maintaining a highly skilled workforce. The experiences of women, immigrants and Aboriginal people, in particular, will be further explored in this report.

This new cycle of the National Apprenticeship Survey helps us to describe and better understand apprentices’ pathways and experiences, including the motivations that bring people to the skilled trades, experiences with apprenticeship training, and labour market outcomes during and following an apprenticeship program. This information will contribute to ensuring that apprenticeship systems across Canada remain strong and are able to continue to support Canada’s evolving economy.

The survey

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The 2015 National Apprenticeship Survey (NAS)

The 2015 NAS was a joint Statistics Canada–Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) telephone survey. Its purpose was to gather information on the training and employment experiences of apprentices across Canada. The sample population for the 2015 NAS was randomly selected from completers and discontinuers identified in the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS), a database of people who were registered as apprentices with provincial or territorial apprenticeship authorities. A total sample of 58,109 respondents was targeted, with a final sample size of 28,469. Please refer to Appendix C for a description of the methodology used in the 2015 NAS.

Survey respondents were selected on the basis of their apprentice status in 2011, 2012 or 2013, as reported by the provincial / territorial jurisdictions. In the 2015 NAS, there were two groups of apprentices:

  • Completers: individuals who were registered apprentices and who completed their apprenticeship programs between 2011 and 2013.
  • Discontinuers: individuals who were registered apprentices and who discontinued their apprenticeship programs between 2011 and 2013.

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There are multiple ways of gaining the requisite skills and knowledge to work in the skilled trades. Apprenticeship is a key method; it is also a flexible system with many points of entry and potential routes to completion. While some people take a fairly direct path, similar to pursuing a postsecondary diploma or degree, others may work in a trade for a number of years before registering as apprentices or follow other possible routes. The different modules of the NAS 2015 questionnaire were designed to help capture information about these various pathways.

There is strong interest in labour market information (LMI) related to the trades, and the Government of Canada has supported four apprentice surveys since 1990. The previous NAS, conducted in 2007, expanded markedly on prior surveys; it examined factors affecting apprenticeship completion and certification, including the reasons why some apprentices take longer to complete their programs. The 2007 NAS looked at completers and discontinuers in 2002, 2003 and 2004 alongside a third group, long-term continuers, those who had remained in their programs for one-and-a-half times the expected duration or longer. This group was excluded from the 2015 survey.

With the exception of content focused on long-term continuers, much of the 2007 questionnaire was considered relevant and reused for the 2015 NAS. The 2015 survey added a component that examined respondents’ apprenticeship activities from the time they completed or discontinued an apprenticeship program (between 2011 and 2013) to the time of the survey (in 2015). It also included new modules to capture apprentice financial supports. The core policy questions for the 2015 NAS were similar to those used for the 2007 cycle, maintaining the focus on understanding the factors that result in apprentices completing or discontinuing their programs. The specific objectives were to better understand:

The questionnaire consisted mostly of core content and separate sets of questions specific to the situation of completers (e.g., the certification process) and of discontinuers (e.g., reasons for discontinuing). The questions focused on the following areas:

Appendix C contains further information on the survey methodology, including: the target population, the frame, the sample design, data accuracy, and response rates.

The 2015 NAS is a primary source of comprehensive information regarding the apprenticeship experience in Canada. It will provide the Government of Canada, the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA), provincial and territorial apprenticeship authorities, and other stakeholders with up-to-date information to assess and adapt their activities in support of positive apprenticeship outcomes. Having recent national research findings on apprenticeship help supports the Red Seal Program and ongoing work with the provinces and territories to strengthen apprenticeship systems. The survey results may also be useful to individuals considering the apprenticeship route as a career option. However, due to methodological differences in the surveys, the 2007 and 2015 NAS populations are not directly comparable. Nevertheless, with appropriate cautions and caveats, the 2015 findings can be used in conjunction with the 2007 NAS to describe and monitor factors affecting apprenticeship and to potentially identify topics for future research.

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Notes to readers: comparing NAS 2007 and NAS 2015

It is important to note that significant changes were made to the methodology of the 2015 National Apprenticeship Survey (NAS), compared with the previous cycle of the NAS in 2007.  These modifications were made to ensure better quality of the 2015 NAS data.  These differences are significant enough to make direct comparisons difficult between the two surveys. 

One of the key differences between NAS 2007 and NAS 2015 is the target population. In the NAS 2015, the population of interest included apprentices who had discontinued or completed an apprenticeship program between 2011 and 2013 (i.e. discontinuers and completers in 2011, 2012 or 2013). In 2007, the NAS population was also comprised of discontinuers and completers (in 2002, 2003 or 2004), but in addition, included long-term continuers. These individuals were excluded in NAS 2015 Therefore, because of the exclusion of long-term continuers in the 2015 NAS, the 2007 and 2015 populations are not comparable.

The other key difference between the two surveys is the flow of the interview. In the NAS 2007, the flow was based on the status of the apprentice at the time of the survey, i.e. in 2007; which could differ from the status they were initially selected on (in 2002, 2003 or 2004). In NAS 2015, the flow of the interview was driven by the status of the apprentice in 2011, 2012 or 2013; i.e., based on the status on which they were selected. Since both surveys include questions asked to only certain groups of apprentices, this difference has an impact on which questions are asked to whom. For instance, discontinuers were asked questions on their reasons for discontinuing the program.

In NAS 2007, apprentices who were selected as discontinuers in 2002-2004, but had since returned (at some point in time between 2002 and 2007) to complete an apprenticeship programs, were considered completers. Therefore, these respondents were asked questions (in the NAS 2007 questionnaire) about their experiences as a completer even though they were initially selected as discontinuers. In NAS 2015, for the same scenario (i.e. apprentices selected as discontinuers in 2012 who returned and completed by 2015), these apprentices were considered discontinuers, and therefore were asked questions (in the NAS 2015 questionnaire) about their experiences as a discontinuer (in 2012). In NAS 2015, activities, since completing or discontinuing in 2011, 2012 or 2013, are also covered in the questionnaire. For example, apprentices who returned to the apprenticeship program and re-registered (in the same trade or in a different trade) and who ended up completing, discontinuing or continuing. It is possible, therefore, to have the total number of all apprentices who have completed a program. However, it should be noted that the status of an apprentice in NAS 2015 is based on his or her status in 2011-2013 (completer or discontinuer). The 2015 questionnaire flow and its supporting analysis (i.e. in the 2015 National report), therefore, also relate to this same status.

Due to these differences in composition of the sample and the questionnaire flow, direct comparisons between the two populations (2007 and 2015) are not recommended and should not be presented without appropriate notes of caution and adjustments to the analytical samples.

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Overview of the report

This report presents a profile of apprentices and high-level explorations of their experiences as participants in apprenticeship programs. The main objectives of the 2015 NAS were twofold: to understand the reasons and pathways that lead to an apprenticeship and to identify the factors that influence whether an apprenticeship program is completed or not.

The content of this report is organized thematically, starting with a description of the sample and the key differences between completers and discontinuersNote 2, and a detailed exploration of motivations and pathways into trades and apprenticeship. The middle sections examine experiences in apprenticeship programs, including required technical training and on-the-job training; challenges and difficulties faced; awareness and use of financial supports, and the certification process, including Red Seal. This is followed by sections on labour market outcomes and job satisfaction. Key areas of policy interest, including interprovincial mobility, attitudes about skilled trades, and experiences of select demographic groups, are given separate treatment. Where applicable, further analysis is conducted in terms of apprentice status (completers versus discontinuers) as well as demographic characteristics (e.g., the experiences of women).


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