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November 24, 2011

Ontario College of Trades chairman Ron Johnson cites skills shortage

The Ontario College of Trades has taken another step forward in electing Ron Johnson, Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario (ISCA) deputy director, as the new chair of its board of governors.

Johnson sees the College of Trades as a regulatory body for the trades, but also playing an active role in promoting trades careers to young people.

“We have an upcoming, looming shortage of skilled tradespeople in the province and I see the College having a very big role to play in the promotion of skilled trades to young people,” he said.

One of the biggest outcries against the College from various stakeholders is claims of a lack of transparency. Karen Renkema, Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) Director of Government Relations, pointed to the recent posting for the College’s roster of adjudicators, which she said wasn’t sent out to stakeholders, it just appeared on the College’s website. She said it was only posted on the website for a week and a half before its Nov. 18 deadline.

“Their decisions will be a determining factor in whether ratios will be increased or decreased and whether compulsory certification will take place for any trade,” she said.

“If you weren’t in the know and weren’t checking the website every day you would have not been apprised of the fact that was out there.”

Renkema said it is actions like this that originally spurred the calls for the overhaul or abolition of the College.

“It really is a response to the fact that the information is not being shared. If you can’t engage stakeholders and you can’t engage the full industry, it’s questionable how the College would suggest that it’s an industry-driven body.”

Johnson acknowledged that there hasn’t been a lot of transparency, but said they will work hard to ensure transparency and openness in the future.

“The College didn’t have really the ability without a board of governors, without a chair or without a CEO. It didn’t have the ability to communicate with the general public or stakeholders so there was this perception,” he said, adding that those charged with making decisions at the adjudicator level will be able to explain the decisions that they’ve made in an open and public process.

Bob Guthrie is the College Registrar and CEO and the former CEO of the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission, where he served for seven years. He will assume his new role full-time in the new year.

David Frame, Director of Government Relations and Corporate Strategy with the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), met with Johnson to discuss the issues that concern them.

The OGCA’s primary concern is that the process being developed to determine mandatory certified trades is seen as political.

“We’re very, very concerned that some of those determinations may have been already made based upon politics, not on good policy,” he said.

From their conversation, Frame learned that there is a framework being developed to make those decisions, but it isn’t a public document and he hasn’t seen it.

Johnson said by committing to transparency the board will be able to address issues like compulsory trade certification and the perceived union bias.

“All stakeholders and those interested would have the opportunity to comment on any potential decision that’s going to be made. I understand the concerns,” he said.

“I think that hopefully over the coming months we’ll be able to allay some of those concerns and demonstrate the openness of the board of governors and the process.”

Johnson described the 21-member board as a highly skilled group of people with various backgrounds throughout the trades sectors.

“We are a board of governors that will be operating at a macro level. We will be relying on each other’s expertise in various sectors as well as the staff and the stakeholders.”

Alexander Lolua, Director of Government and Public Relations for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario, said he believes the board of governors made an excellent choice with Johnson as chair.

“I have found Ron to be a dedicated and committed individual who can get things done. He has all the skills required to perform this important function, especially with the College being in its infancy.”

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