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My fight to create jobs for young people

(Queen's Park Report - October 21, 2008) Its small business week in Ontario and a time to salute the people and workers who account for more than half of our provinces total private sector employment.  They comprise more than 98 per cent of all businesses in this province and many of them are also struggling to survive and provide jobs in a time of economic uncertainty.

One of the issues that I have been raising constantly in the Legislature directly affects small businesses, particularly the trades, and it has to do with apprentice ratios.  I admit it doesn’t sound like a sexy issue but it is so incredibly important that it deserves our urgent attention.  Let me tell you why.

I’ll use electrical contracting as an example.  In that industry, unlike other provinces, the Ontario government requires three qualified electricians just to supervise and train one apprentice, instead of one certified electrician training one apprentice.  

Now think about that for a moment.  If you’re a weightlifter with a 100 pound steel bar strung above your neck, you might use one personal trainer as your spotter, not three.  Or think about it in terms of driving.  Imagine being 16 and going in to get your G1 license (or 365 as we used to call it) to discover that the government is only going to let you drive if you have three fully licensed drivers supervising you in the back seat.  It would be ridiculous and that is why I’ve been fighting to bring a 1 to 1 apprentice to journeymen ratio.  Put simply, it would ease the skilled trade shortage and put more young people to work.

Now if you are the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers then you are probably some of the only people who like high apprentice to journeymen ratios.  Why?  The union likes how it keeps supply down and demand up and how it helps the bigger electrical firms who have the capacity to hire more qualified electricians in order to have more apprentices, unlike the small firms who may only have two electricians in the entire business --- dad and son perhaps.  

Now the Liberal government naturally loves to support these unions because they are a key component to their electoral success.  In fact, 88% of the $5 million spent by unions to help elect Premier McGuinty in the last election came from building trades unions.  Needless to say, they like to help each other out.

The biggest crime of all is for the students who are studying a trade in college and then go to work in a trade during the summer months.  When they go to become qualified after college through an apprentice program they can’t get in, but during the summer when they’re not part of an apprentice program it’s a-okay for them to work in say a machine shop, for example.

It’s absolutely baffling, especially when you consider the Ontario Chamber of Commerce reports that 25 to 60 thousand workers are currently required in the construction industry, while another 50,000 are going to be needed in the tooling and machining industry.

So next time you read about the skilled-trade shortage remember that the bottleneck in the process occurs in Premier McGuinty’s office which is refusing to make one small regulatory change so that young people can get a job in this province.  In these uncertain economic times, it’s a particularly disturbing policy.


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