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Increasing skilled trades employer participation in apprenticeship training in British Columbia

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The sustainability of British Columbia’s economy depends on maintaining a highly-skilled and productive trades labour-force. Since the late-1990s, reports of labour shortages in the trades have become increasingly frequent. Apprenticeship has traditionally been the source of training for new entrants to the trades, yet its contribution to the skilled trades labour force has been in decline in recent decades. In the early 2000s, policy responses targeted increasing the supply of potential apprentices, and produced record high apprenticeship enrolments. However, a decade later, these enrolments have not resulted in additional apprenticeship completions. Only an estimated twenty per cent of skilled trades firms are currently training apprentices. This study examines the factors that affect a firm’s decision whether to participate in apprenticeship by focusing on one sector – the electrical trades in Vancouver, BC. This study’s methodology has two components: a survey of the population of electrical trades firms, and semi-structured interviews with ten firms including four firms that currently employ apprentices, and six firms that currently do not employ apprentices. The study finds that apprenticeship training occurs primarily in larger firms and unionized firms, and participation is primarily dependent on the availability of steady work contracts. Economic volatility, 'underground' competition, and information problems are interrelated factors that present challenges related to economies of scale, which adversely affect the participation of small firms in apprenticeship. Interviews with firms reveal that the current policy framework of directly subsidizing apprenticeship has had no effect on their hiring decisions. To improve the flow of workers into the skilled trades and address apprenticeship barriers, policies will need to focus on producing additional work opportunities that are conducive to apprenticeship training, improving the flexibility of apprenticeship work arrangements, correcting information problems regarding skill assessment, and suppressing 'underground' firms. Policy alternatives include apprentice-share arrangements similar to that of the Canadian Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC) or Australian Group Training Organizations (GTOs), and/or an interactive user-supported web platform that provides accurate industry and firm-specific information to other firms, workers, prospective workers, and consumers.
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