Alberta’s apprenticeship system is set to undergo significant changes in 2022 when a bill introduced in April 2021 comes into effect. The bill, called the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act and introduced by the province’s Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides, will replace the existing Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act. As part of an assessment of the current state of apprentice education in Alberta, Nicolaides created a task force called the Skills for Jobs Task Force to investigate ways to modernize the current system and help reduce the shortage of skilled long-term labour in the province. As part of the Task Force’s Final Report, which was completed in September of 2020, a number of recommendations were made to improve the apprenticeship system by expanding it to more industries, improving public perception of apprenticeships, and increasing awareness.
Task Force Identifies Areas for Improvement in Alberta’s Apprenticeship Model
There were a number of inefficiencies identified in the current system. For example, the number of jobs that currently allow for apprenticeships in Alberta is 47. In comparison, the Task Force found that some European countries allow apprenticeships in over 200 jobs. In addition, the current system was found to be slow-moving when it comes to adapting to change. The Task Force suggestions included a number of ways to improve flexibility within the program and give greater control to employers to make changes as needed to the educational requirements of an individual program.
An Overview of Changes Under the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act
The Task Force identified several issues requiring improvement, and indicated that the new legislation would need to address the following issues:
- Clearly define apprenticeship education.
- Be consistent with the objectives of the apprenticeship system.
- Support parity of esteem of apprenticeship education and skilled trades professions.
- Provide flexibility that allows the system to be nimble, empower innovation, and be responsive to future needs.
- Allow for an expanded application of the apprenticeship education model to a broader range of other professions (e.g. industrial trades, personal services, IT).
- Reduce regulatory complexity.
- Clarify the nature of regulated trades professions and certification standards that serve as a license to work.
- Create legislative separation between authority to create apprenticeship education programs and provisions that regulate trades professions to ensure that the apprenticeship learning model can be provided for other careers and professions.
There are four primary areas in which the new Act will seek to improve upon the current apprenticeship program in Alberta, as outlined below:
Expanding the Apprenticeship Program to More Industries and Careers
The Task Force found that the current offerings are limited in their reach and that to meet labour demands and help Albertans acquire the skills necessary to fulfill the needs of the labour market, new areas must be targeted. For this reason, the province will be expanding coverage to include new careers such as computer coding, graphic design, agricultural technology, and cybersecurity.
Further, the new Act will allow for the creation of apprenticeships in fields where Alberta has previously lacked, such as fashion and creative arts, information technology, and social and personal services.
Modernize and Expedite the Current Framework
Under the current system, changes to the curriculum can take years, as the process is slow to adapt and involves many regulatory requirements. Under the new Act, the focus will be on allowing change to occur at a quicker pace so that employers and educators across the impacted industries can adapt to changes more quickly and efficiently.
Establish a new Board of Skilled Trades for Better Governance
A new board will be created to reflect the new Act’s focus on flexibility and autonomy. Under the current system, the Task Force found that it is nearly impossible to advance apprenticeships in a way that will help meet the fluctuating demands of Alberta’s workforce. Under the new Act, the board will have clearly defined roles, and will work in conjunction with educators and employers to address new opportunities for growth, changes to curriculum and improve responsiveness overall.
Expanding Educational and Career Progress for Skilled Workers
The changes under the new Act are also designed to help skilled workers obtain educational recognition for their training, which will, in turn, help them to build more easily on their existing skills to help with career progression and/or transition.
How Will the Changes Impact the Construction Industry Specifically?
The Task Force found that employers are positioned to greatly impact the evolution of the province’s apprentice system through ongoing consultations and cooperation. For an industry such as construction, which already heavily relies on apprenticeships to train new workers, there is an opportunity for input into the ongoing changes, as well as the expansion of the program to meet the new or changing needs of specific areas of the industry. As the Task Force identified in its report, there is currently no coverage for niche areas of construction such as working with composites and materials, claddings, and pilings. This could be an opportunity for construction industry leaders to shape the future of construction education in the province, by working in consultation with the governing board in the design and management of the program for years to come.
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