National Apprenticeship Survey: Canada Overview Report 2015

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by Kristyn Frank and Emily Jovic

Release date: March 29, 2017

Executive summary

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. Despite a decline following the economic recession in 2008 and 2009, new registrations in apprenticeship programs have increased nearly 200% since the 1990s.

Apprenticeship training is one of the key methods by which people acquire the skills and knowledge needed to become skilled tradespeople. The 2015 National Apprenticeship Survey (NAS) explored the experience of apprenticeship training in Canada, including pathways to apprenticeship and skilled trades, as well as factors influencing completion.

The NAS national overview report offers a first look at the data generated by this new survey. Each chapter of the report focuses on one of many key themes including apprentices’ socio-demographic profile, financial supports and labour market outcomes.

The majority of apprentices were young, male and Canadian-born while women and immigrants remained underrepresented

The majority of apprentices were under 25 years of age (52.8%), men (86.3%), Canadian-born (91.3%) and had a high school diploma as their highest level of education (55.7%) when starting an apprenticeship.

Apprentices, moreover, were more highly represented among the Red Seal trades at 78.2%. For instance, over half of all apprentices were in the top 10 Red Seal trades with about 12% in the carpenter and construction electrician trades, respectively. The Interprovincial Red Seal Program is the Canadian standard for skilled trades and allows tradespeople to have their skills recognized across the country.

There is notable underrepresentation of women, immigrants and visible minorities in apprenticeship programs. Women form about half the population of Canada, but made up 13.7% of apprentices. Moreover, there was a lower percentage of them in the Red Seal trades compared with male apprentices (59.2% versus 81.2%).

Similarly, immigrants accounted for 8.7% of apprentices, less than half of their share of the population of Canada. Although the majority of immigrants were registered in a Red Seal trade (67.6%), their percentage was lower than non-immigrants (79.1%).

Apprentices who belonged to a visible minority at 8.2%, meanwhile, were also less than half their share Canada-wide.

Aboriginal apprentices saw a somewhat different situation, as they accounted for 6.3% of all apprentices in 2015, a slightly higher representation than their share of the Canadian population.

While the majority of apprentices did not experience difficulties, some reported financial constraints and job instability

Overall, nearly two-thirds of apprentices (65.5%) reported experiencing no difficulty progressing through their apprenticeship programs.

Among those who did report some difficulties, financial constraints were the most common challenges faced by apprentices during a program at 24.7%, followed by job instability (21.2%).

Apprentices took advantage of financial assistance available to them

Apprentices’ training is largely funded through the on-the-job portion of an apprenticeship, where employers are the primary source of income. Nevertheless, many apprentices tapped into available grants, tax credits, and Employment Insurance (EI) benefits to help pay for their training expenses.

About 60% of apprentices were aware of federal apprenticeship incentive and completion grants during their programs.

More than one-third of apprentices, meanwhile, claimed a tax credit for expenses such as tuition or tools. In addition, over half applied for EI during applicable technical training periods.

The main reasons that apprentices were denied EI during their training were “insufficient hours” and “already had a job.”

Nearly three-quarters of apprentices received a certificate with a Red Seal endorsement

Certification marks the final step in apprenticeship programs and signals that apprentices are ready to enter the workforce as skilled tradespeople. The majority of apprentices (72.8%) who completed their programs received a certification of qualification in the Red Seal trades while 22.4% received one for non-Red Seal trades.

Apprentices in a Red Seal trade who did not pursue a Red Seal endorsement felt it “was not needed” (56.9%) or they lacked interest (27.2%).

Apprentices who completed their programs were more likely to find employment

Although the majority of apprentices went on to secure employment, a permanent job and benefits, the percentages were higher among completers than discontinuers. For instance, 80.8% of completers had a permanent job compared with 77.0% of discontinuers.

Moreover, those who completed a program also had a higher average annual income at $69,512 and hourly wages $33/hour than those who had not completed one at $59,782 annually and $28/hour, respectively.

Immigrant apprentices had a similar employment rate as non-immigrants at about 80% while women (72.5%) and Aboriginal apprentices (76.3%) had lower ones.

Among the top 10 Red Seal trades, the majority of completers (88.5%) held a job related to the trade of their apprenticeships. Results ranged from 79.8% for hairstylists to 95.8% for plumbers.

Most apprentices who worked as paid employees also reported that they were satisfied with their pay, job security and their health and safety conditions.  

The majority of apprentices did not move before, during or after their apprenticeships

Prior to beginning an apprenticeship, 12.8% of apprentices had moved from a province, territory or country of residence. About half of that amount, meanwhile, moved during a program and even less (3.8%) moved to another province or territory to secure a job.

Most apprentices held positive attitudes towards the trades  

The majority of apprentices (more than 90%) agreed that “Canadians increasingly see trades as a good career option” and that it “is the best way to learn a trade.” The latter was reported more strongly by completers (47.2%) compared with discontinuers (35.9%).

In addition, more than three-quarters of apprentices either agreed or strongly agreed that trade occupations pay better than other jobs. The percentage of apprentices who felt this way, however, varied by trade. For instance, among the top 10 Red Seal trades, 90.2% of steamfitters / pipefitter apprentices reported that trade occupations pay better than other jobs, compared with 61.0% of cook apprentices. Moreover, men were more likely than women to report that trades pay better than other jobs.

These survey results provide new information about apprentices across Canada and can be used by apprenticeship authorities, educators and policymakers involved with apprenticeship programs. This information may also be useful to individuals considering trade occupations as a career option.

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