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Dealer's Voice: New College of Trades has done Nothing to Promote Jobs

In an effort to address the systemic shortfall of workers in the trades, the province recently created a new bureaucracy known as the Ontario College of Trades

  • OCOT

One of the challenges facing the retail auto sector these days is attracting qualified candidates to fill available positions.

It’s a challenge that the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) has worked hard to address over the past two decades.

TADA has formed partnerships with post-secondary institutions and introduced numerous scholarships and awards, sponsored annual skills competitions among automotive students, worked with high schools and leveraged its exposure at auto shows.

Together, these efforts have raised the profile of automotive careers among young men and women, and they have encouraged many students to pursue an expanding range of careers in this burgeoning field.

The shortfall of workers isn’t confined to the automotive sector. Most skilled trades (plumbers, drywallers, electricians, carpenters) have also been challenged to find the next generation of skilled tradespeople. Ontario’s Ministry of Finance predicts there will be 1 million vacancies in the skilled trades by 2021.

In an effort to address the systemic shortfall of workers in the trades, the province recently created a new bureaucracy known as the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT, collegeoftrades.ca).

It’s a regulatory body that purports to “give industry a greater role in governance, certification and training” and carries with it an annual Trades Tax of $60 for apprentices and $120 for licensed tradespeople and, potentially, employers. The College represents trades in four sectors: construction, industrial, motive power and services.

The government claims that this additional revenue will help raise the profile of, and promote involvement in, skilled trades.

I understand the provincial government wants to promote the trades. But, in practice, OCOT is nothing more than another level of bureaucracy, and a financial burden on apprentices, tradespeople and employers that will generate about $33.6 million by 2015, according to its business plan.

OCOT is not a traditional classroom with books, or a place to learn a trade. It’s an expensive Bay Street bureaucracy that puts up another barrier to enter the skilled trades.

In response, there has been a groundswell of opposition from tradespeople, trade associations, employers and politicians. TADA has joined 30 other employer groups known as the “Stop the Trades Tax” campaign to abolish the College (stopthetradestax.ca).

My suggestion is this: With $33.6 million generated by taxes on tradespeople, there is a huge responsibility to do something useful with that money.

It should be spent promoting the trades, using a combination of traditional and new media. If you want to reach young audiences and influence their behaviours, you have to be present in their environments, meaning digital and mobile spaces.

OCOT should also be conceiving grassroots efforts to connect with potential tradespeople. For instance, they should be networking at high schools, meeting with community leaders and establishing a presence at auto shows, such as the Georgian Auto Show in Barrie.

In fact, the minister who first introduced the legislation establishing OCOT in 2009 touted its purpose is to promote the skilled trades. Four years later, we haven’t seen any substantial promotion or outreach of the skilled trades.

OCOT has a golden opportunity to influence young people to pursue well-paying careers in the trades, and it is TADA’s hope that this opportunity isn’t squandered.

It would be a shame if, after another four years, there was not a net improvement in the percentages of people pursuing careers in the trades.

TADA will be keeping close tabs on OCOT, ensuring that it achieves desired results and is accountable to the apprentices, tradespeople and employers of Ontario.

The College has stumbled out of the gate in terms of promoting the trades. Let’s hope that will change. After all, that’s why it was created.

This column represents the views of TADA. Email president@tada.ca or visit tada.ca. Benny Leung, president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in the GTA.

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