Apprenticeships: Hands-On Learning

By Sandra Fletcher

When going through some papers with my father many years ago, I found a newspaper clipping from the 1960s with the heading “Area Man Survives Electrocution”. He explained that when he was training to be an electrician, you learned hands-on while doing the job with no prior education or training. In one of his early jobs, he’d touched two live wires and almost electrocuted himself – only his rubber soled shoes (partially melted to the ground) had saved him!

Things have changed significantly in Ontario over the last 50 years in the electrical trade and in all of the other skilled trades as well. Now apprenticeships, combining the best of education and hands-on learning, offer the solution to a growing gap in the employment picture. In the next two decades, the Skilled Trades are expected to increase their work force by 40 percent.

What Are The Skilled Trades?
There are over 750,000 Ontarians working in more than 150 skilled trades. Some samples of apprenticeship professions include:

  • Construction: The construction industry is always active. There have been significant increases to the amount of hiring in this sector due to baby boomer retirements.
    • Electrical, plumbing and refrigeration
    • Brick masonry
    • Sheet metal work and welding
    • Carpentry and cabinet making
    • Landscaping and architectural design
  • Manufacturing: While some areas of the manufacturing sector have suffered over the last 2-3 years, others, in the highly technical areas have grown.
    • Machining
    • Robotics
    • Mechanics
  • Service: The service industry is always in need of creative, skilled workers.
    • Cooking, baking and restaurant service
    • Hairstyling and aesthetics
    • Fashion technology
  • Automotive: While the automotive sector has crashed and been rebuilt over the last few years, maintenance and repair are more important now than they once were.
    • Automotive service and repair
    • Aircraft and heavy equipment maintenance
  • Information Technology(IT): As technology grows and changes, demand for skilled technologically aware employees is always there in the IT sector.
    • Animation, graphic design and web development
    • IT software, hardware and network support

Who Makes A Good Candidate For The Skilled Trades?
If you enjoy working with your hands and take satisfaction from real, solid, tangible results from your work, you will probably do well in the skilled trades.

When a mason bricks the outside of a home, a baker makes a cake, a mechanic fixes a car or a web designer uploads a web site, they are creating something – and that’s what the skilled trades are all about!

Apprenticeship programs teach skills on the job, with workers learning from more experienced trades people. Apprentices also learn through in-class instruction as a part of their training.

To become an apprentice when you have no previous experience, you will balance working for pay and paying to learn. Over several years, you will earn money working for an employer most of the time. At times during this process you will attend training classes. When you complete your education and pass the examination, you will receive your license.

As an example, to become an electrician like my father, you must attend three in-class training modules at a total of 28 weeks over the course of five years. That education, in combination with 2,000 hours of practical experience is enough to write the certification examination.

How Do I Get Started?
In Ontario you need to have completed a high school diploma to enter most of the apprenticeship programs. If you have obtained your high school diploma outside of Canada, you will have to obtain a high school equivalency report from a recognized evaluation service to begin your apprenticeship training.

The details of the apprenticeship depend on the trade, but the first step is to find an employer who agrees to sponsor you as an apprentice. There are websites and organizations that can assist you with finding employers willing to take on apprentices.

When you finish your apprenticeship you will be a “journeyperson” – a person who has demonstrated both the practical and technical proficiency in a specific skilled trade. This can take from 1-5 years depending on the trade.

In addition to the formal training programs offered by the Ontario Colleges, you can also opt for training offered at Union Education Centres (the Carpenters, Millwrights, Bricklayers and Electrical workers all have education programs) or through many of the programs offered through Employment Ontario.

The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) is a pre-apprenticeship training program in conjunction with school boards in the GTA and Durham regions. OYAP is for students over 16 in grade 11 or 12 and gives them an opportunity to attend training for part of their school year and then have the opportunity to work at job sites for further experience.

You can find more information on this and other programs through the Employment Ontario hotline at 1-800-387-5656.

Are Newcomers Welcome?
If you have previous training and experience in a particular trade from your home country, you may be able to receive your certification without going through an apprenticeship program.

If you already have worked in the trades in your home country, you will need to provide the trade regulator with copies of your documentation to be compared to Canadian standards. The equivalency process will consist of an evaluation of your education, specific questions about the kind of work you did, and an assessment of your experience.

In some trades, there may be differences between your qualifications and those required for Canada. You may need to upgrade your skills or do additional training before you are able to move ahead.

The next step is to write an exam (after you complete the required apprenticeship hours OR after the governing body approves your previous experience).

One of the best resources in Toronto for newcomers thinking about apprenticeship is the Newcomers Connecting to Trades Apprenticeship Resources (NeCTAR) offered through COSTI. The program is funded through Employment Ontario and helps newcomers to access services, training and information. This successful program has been in place for years and assistance is available in different languages.

Let’s Hear It For The Girls
Women are under-represented in the skilled trades (only 3 percent of tradespeople are female). There has been an effort to fix the imbalance over the last decade and young women are being actively recruited in high schools to join the trades.

One program that does an excellent job for women is WIST (Women in the Skilled Trades). It is a 38 week program funded by the Ontario provincial government. Of its recent graduates, 80 percent have found work in their fields.

If your career path leads you toward a hands-on profession, choosing apprenticeship training gives you training combined with paid on-the-job experience. It’s a win-win step in the right direction toward career success!

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Sandra FletcherSandra is one of the busiest people we know. She is both a Programme Manager and Privacy Officer for an Employment Services Company. As well, she is the Vice-Chair of School Community Council, mom of two boys and a freelance writer. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.