April 17, 2012

Ontario trades college a “stumbling block”, PC critic says

Most Ontarians, even those in the skilled trades, don’t know what’s happening at the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), claims Ontario’s Progressive Conservative critic for apprenticeship reform.

April 1 marked the beginning of OCOT’s first journeyman to apprentice ratio reviews but Garfield Dunlop, PC critic for apprenticeship reform, wonders why the OCOT is even needed.

“I think all this is a stumbling block and another level of bureaucracy that’s completely not required in Ontario today,” he said in an interview with the Daily Commercial News.

“We’ve made it clear, if we’re able to form the government, we’ll scrap this thing. We think it’s a waste of time.”

OCOT, which represents more than 150 skilled trades in the construction, industrial, motive power and service sectors, was legislated in 2009 and formed as a response to one of the recommendations in the 2008 Compulsory Certification Project Review by Tim Armstrong. Among its mandates are ratio reviews and promoting the skilled trades to youth.

Prior to the fall provincial election, a coalition of construction employers called to abolish or completely overhaul OCOT, citing issues over the governance structure, transparency and its perceived union bias.

It is that perceived union bias that Dunlop, a plumber by trade, believes will maintain apprenticeship ratios at 3:1 for some trades.

“I will guarantee you that they will not look at the trades that are already mandatory certified. They will be very biased that way and you won’t see electrical, plumbing, HVAC, you won’t see those leave the 3:1 ratio,” he said.

Safety is one of the main reasons why people back the higher journeyman to apprentice ratio, though Dunlop pointed to other provinces that have a 1:1 ratio or even a 2:1 apprentice to journeyman ratio.

“I don’t buy that. We’ve got great safety records around all of our industry.”

Despite promises of greater transparency, Dunlop said he has no idea how much money is going into OCOT.

“We should know every penny they’re spending because the money they’re getting today is coming from the tax payers of the province of Ontario. Nobody is throwing extra dollars in.”

Eventually OCOT will be a self-funded institution and there are also worries about how much that will cost tradesmen each year.

Dunlop has his own panel of advisors helping him with OCOT and apprenticeship reform. He said it’s important to not lose focus on giving youth more access to the trades and eliminating the stigma against working in the skilled trades.

OCOT’s first ratio reviews, which are currently accepting submissions, will address Group A-1: Floor Covering Installer; and Group A-2: Hoisting Engineer: Mobile Crane Operator-Br1; Hoisting Engineer: Mobile Crane Operator; Hoisting Engineer: Tower Crane Operator. These trades are currently at a 1:1 journeyman to apprentice ratio.

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