College of Trades still a point of contention for business

The first article in this space on Thursday, January 10, 2013 was titled “College of Trades failing to make the grade with industry and its tradespeople”.  Sadly, that sentiment still holds true two years later.  Since that time the Chamber Network, through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been very vocal about concerns surrounding the mandate of the Ontario College of Trades (the College).  A white paper was released in October 2013 titled “Caution: Work Ahead”.  Delegates to the 2013 and 2014 OCC Annual General Meetings have passed policy resolutions with recommendations to improve the policy framework and outcomes of the College. 

The College is a regulatory body for the skilled trades that was born out of legislation passed in 2009.  It has a mandate that states, “the new College will issue licenses and certificates of membership; protect the public interest through investigation and discipline mechanisms; set standards for training and certification; conduct research and collect relevant data to support future apprenticeship and certification policies; removing barriers and increasing access for internationally trained workers.” 

In October of 2014, about 18 months after starting operations, the provincial government announced that it had appointed “former Secretary of Cabinet and Head of the Ontario Public Service, Tony Dean, to review key areas of Ontario's skilled trades system that fall within the mandate of the Ontario College of Trades.”

The Dean Review included a call for written submissions and the Ontario Chamber Network responded with a document titled “Constructive Criticism” and signed by 24 Chamber managers across the province, including our own President & CEO, Stuart Harrison.  

The submission asks two questions: Is the College currently protecting the public interest and how should the
College advance the public interest?  Under the second question three considerations were examined: 

  1. Consider the Broader Economic Impact & Fill the Data Gap
  2. Reform the Trade Classification Review Process
  3. Lower Barriers to Entry in the Skilled Trades

The write-in phase documents were due to the Dean Review on Friday, March 13, 2015.  In his March 2015 Reviewer’s Update, Tony Dean writes that “107 submissions from College trade boards, individuals, single-trade and trade sector employers and unions, training providers and independent businesses.”

In his introductory letter in "Constructive Criticism", OCC President and CEO Allan O'Dette explains why the College needs to be effective, “Building a 21st century workforce is a core component of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) five year Emerging Stronger economic agenda for Ontario. Keeping the province’s economy firmly on the path from recovery to growth will require an adaptable and highly skilled labour pool. A modern apprenticeship system and a regulatory climate that is flexible and responsive to labour market needs are crucial factors to achieving this.   

In its current form, the College is not positioned to deliver on many elements of its mandate. Over the last year, concerns have mounted over its compulsory membership structure, and the bias inherent to its trade classification review process. Additionally, the implications of expanding the range of compulsory trades have not yet been fully analyzed or adequately debated, and decisions appear to be made without sufficient objective.

It should be noted that our membership has expressed disappointment that the scope of your review does not extend to journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios, the ratio review panel process, apprenticeship
training, and the promotion of the skilled trades among the province’s youth. It is our hope that these concerns can be discussed in detail through in-person consultations with local chambers of commerce and boards of trade in communities across the province.”

The OCC report concludes that “the Ontario Chamber membership of 60,000 businesses remains unconvinced that the Ontario College of Trades has brought value to skilled tradespersons and
apprentices across the province.”  

It goes on to suggest that too much focus is being made on enforcement and compliance and that “all decisions regarding compulsory trade and apprenticeship ratios are [should be] transparent and subject to high decision-making thresholds.”   

The Chamber Network also suggests an independent advisory council be created and modeled after the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC).  

The Dean Review will be holding in-person consultations starting today (Thursday, April 9, 2015) in Kingston, followed by visits to Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Sarnia, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and the GTA.

Comment through the "Peterborough Chamber" group of LinkedIn.

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