I’m pretty sick of the discourse around apprenticeships in Canada. But that doesn’t mean I’m against apprenticeships; quite the opposite, actually. I’d just like policy formation on the subject to revolve around something more intelligent than MOREMOREMOREWENEEDMORE.
Instead of focussing the discussion entirely around intake rates, we could be having much more productive discussions about any of the following:
1. How do we increase completion rates?
Contra most of the rhetoric you hear, Canada’s apprenticeship intake rates are pretty good – and in the skilled trades, our rates are higher than in Germany. The bigger issue is that half of all apprentices don’t complete their training within ten years of starting a program, and a significant proportion of those who do, take far more than the “four years” you see on brochures. We don’t tolerate this kind of failure rate in other forms of education – why do we tolerate it for apprenticeships?
2. Should we continue to use block-release for training?
In most countries, apprentices intersperse their learning and working on a near-daily basis. A typical situation in Germany would be to have the apprentice working on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and in class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In large part, this day-release policy exists to ensure that the applied and theoretical parts of learning are as integrated as possible. In Canada, we do what is known as “block release” – that is, have apprentices do their learning in discrete chunks. Our system evolved partly because of climate, and partly because of government EI rules: laying off workers for a few weeks so they could get some training was both a convenient way for employers to slim payroll during the winter months, and a way for provinces to get the feds involved in financing apprenticeships. But does it make sense pedagogically? Do we get better journeypersons as a result?
3. Why do our apprenticeships take so long?
There’s virtually nowhere else in the world where apprenticeships take longer than three years. Why do ours take four, or more? Do our apprentices end up more skilled than those elsewhere, or is this just a way for businesses to pad profits by paying well-trained workers less than full rate for an extra year?
4. How do the outcomes of our apprenticeships compare to those in other countries?
This is really the key question. The number of journeypersons we have is ultimately only half the equation: all the quantity in the world doesn’t make up for a lack of quality. And we actually have some means to do this: I’d love to have someone give red seal exams to a random group of German or Dutch apprentices, and see how they do (for balance, it’d be good to have apprentices from different countries take the PIAAC test, as well).
Anyone who wants to have those discussions is welcome for a chat at HESA Towers, anytime. Anyone who wants to keep banging on tired tropes about how trades are discriminated against, and we need to encourage more students to blah blah blah, I have but two words: do better.