Breaking the stigma

Many young people and their parents hold misconceptions about careers in the skilled trades

The stigma around careers in the skilled trades continues to exist. Young people are often steered towards college and university by their parents due to misconceptions of skilled trades careers being low-skilled and low-paying positions with minimal job stability and a lack of long-term career prospects. Apprentices have noted that they were looked down upon by peers, parents and teachers for choosing a career in the skilled trades. Greater efforts need to be taken to change the attitudes and perspectives of key influencers – parents, teachers and others – to break down the stigma of skilled trades careers.

For some reason the skilled trades were seen as dirty jobs, not well paying, and for those that lack brains. It's far from that. Youth and young adults should be aware of the great paying jobs in the skilled trades! There needs to be a perception that being a doctor, or a lawyer is not better than being an electrician or a mechanic, we all need each other.


Information on the skilled trades is inconsistent and limited

There is a lack of clear and consistent information on apprenticeship pathways available to young people, which ultimately prevents them from pursuing a career in the skilled trades. A comprehensive, long-term marketing and promotional campaign is required to show young people the value of skilled trades careers and the vast number of opportunities available. Campaigns should highlight the meaningful and rewarding experience of working in the trades, in addition to the earning potential of skilled trades careers. All promotional efforts should aim for inclusivity and ensure diverse representation so that all youth see themselves in these careers. Our survey of parents and young adults showed that the most common barriers facing individuals interested in pursuing apprenticeship were related to a lack of awareness of the skilled trades, limited understanding of how to apply, and difficulty finding an employer (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: Guardian and youth feedback on barriers and challenges to pursuing a career in the skilled trades.
Type of guardian or youthNot applicableNone of the aboveOtherTraining costsDifficulty finding an employerChallenges with applying to become an apprenticeLack of awareness on how to pursue an apprenticeshipLack of awareness on careers in the skilled tradesNegative reaction or stigma from peers, parents, educators, etc.
Parent of a child that is considering a career in the skilled trades151211437461958037
Parent of a child that is not considering a career in the skilled trades72391714222723
Prefer not to say116514168171610
Under 30 years of age and considering a career in the skilled trades272012414537755631
Under 30 years of age and not considering a career in the skilled trades21113151510222319

Awareness and exposure of the skilled trades should start at a younger age

Since students begin to identify their career interests as early as grade 6, early exposure to the skilled trades will help to broaden their career decisions and prepare them for participation in secondary school programs, such as the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Many respondents noted that the removal of technological education programs (for example, woodworking class, automotive shop class, etc.) and the absence of skilled trades in the curriculum has further limited exposure to skilled trades careers. Engaging and interactive presentations, activities and programs should be delivered to students (and their parents) as early as kindergarten, with more enhanced experiential programming between grades 6 - 8. Respondents detailed various ways to provide information to students, including online resources, classroom guest speakers such as experienced tradespeople, open houses or site tours at workplaces, and information sessions for students and parents (See Figure 3).

The trades are not for everyone, but everyone, regardless of expectations, should be exposed to all opportunities. I often think of how different my life would be if I had been encouraged to take even one shop course in high school. I’m an artist, I love working with my hands and I hate sitting at a desk, it should have been a no-brainer.

Apprentice (who began their career in the skilled trades after obtaining a university degree)
Figure 3: Most effective ways to provide information about apprenticeships and the advantages of choosing a career in the skilled trades.
Method of providing trades information to parents, guardians, and young peopleProportion of employers or labour representatives who believe that a method of providing information is effective
Not sureN/A
Experiential learning opportunities687
Career fairs449
Aptitude test or guide for potential career profile315
Marketing and awareness campaigns705
Online resources574
Information booklets/pamphlets about the trades262
Presentations outside of school272

Apprenticeship continues to be regarded as a last-resort option for post-secondary education

The apprenticeship pathway is commonly regarded as an option for students who do not excel academically, while university and college are promoted for students that perform well in secondary school. This bias is often present for certain stereotyped groups who are steered towards the skilled trades because they are perceived to be low-skilled, manual labour jobs. There is a strong desire among those we engaged for more significant action on levelling the playing field between the apprenticeship and college and university pathways so that apprenticeship is seen as an equal pathway.

Knowledge and awareness of the skilled trades varies among educators

We heard that a significant portion of teachers, guidance counselors, and other staff in elementary and secondary schools have limited knowledge about the skilled trades. Many have had no exposure to the skilled trades. More opportunities to bring educators to skilled trades job sites and facilities will enhance their understanding of the variety of careers available that they can then share with students. Many respondents noted that some guidance counsellors often discourage students from the apprenticeship pathways when advising students of their career path. Greater efforts should be made to enable more certified skilled trades workers the opportunity to teach at the secondary school level.

There is evidence however that knowledge and awareness of the skilled trades are high among some educators. The majority of educators we surveyed felt knowledgeable in providing support to a student interested in pursuing a career in the skilled trades (See Figure 4). Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program participants and current apprentices often credited a supportive guidance counsellor or teacher for helping to steer them towards the apprenticeship and skilled trades pathway.

Figure 4: Educators’ responses to the statement, “I feel knowledgeable in providing support to a student interested in pursuing a career in the skilled trades”.
Educator positionTotal number of respondents, by typeStrongly agreeAgreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagreeStrongly disagreeNot applicable
Guidance counsellor7621408700
Career studies teacher4121125201
Technological education teacher235163628200
Co-operative education teacher11066373400
Leader of experiential learning5030164000
Dual credits teacher4429123000
OYAP coordinator524192000
SHSM lead9157265300
Student success or pathways lead4219165200
Teacher for Grades 1-619365410
Teacher for Grades 7-817473210
Teacher for Grades 9-121869367141110
Teacher for adult education5226177200
Early Childhood Educator (ECE)3622122000

Identifying the barriers

Apprentices face numerous barriers that prevent them from progressing in their training

Apprentices often face financial and logistical barriers that impact their ability to continue in their apprenticeship training. The cost of apprenticeship can be high – from purchasing tools and equipment, paying for daily classroom fees and books, pausing employment to pursue in-class training, and commuting to and from in-class training and job sites. Transportation can be a significant hurdle for individuals living in rural areas that do not have a driver’s licence, as well as for youth with disabilities who are unable to access public transit. Access to flexible and affordable child care is also another significant barrier, especially for female apprentices who begin their workdays earlier or finish later, outside of regular child care hours. We heard that a daily stipend or living allowance during apprenticeship training is required to attract more young people to the trades as it would help cover the costs associated with an apprenticeship.

Some individuals face multiple, complex barriers that prevent them from pursuing a career in the skilled trades

There are a multitude of non-visible barriers preventing youth from pursuing a career in the skilled trades, especially youth from underrepresented groups and communities, such as women, Black youth, Indigenous youth, youth with disabilities, newcomers, Francophones, youth at-risk and those from racialized communities. Barriers include systemic racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, lack of accommodation measures and wrap-around supports, workplace harassment and bullying. Many respondents called on mandatory diversity and inclusivity training to foster a work environment that is safe and welcoming and where all employees feel valued.

Greater efforts are required to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades

Students often lack the prerequisite knowledge required for a career in the skilled trades and are not advised on the courses required to excel in their chosen trade. This presents as a barrier for young apprentices who then feel unprepared when they begin their apprenticeship. Stronger connections between skilled trades workers and schools would help to ensure students are better prepared for their apprenticeship.

Improving access and creating supportive pathways

Pathways into the apprenticeship are complex and not clearly communicated

Apprentices find the current apprenticeship application system confusing and difficult to navigate. There are numerous pathways into an apprenticeship that are not clearly articulated and there is no streamlined process to enter the trades. Finding employers that are hiring apprentices is a common challenge among individuals seeking to begin their apprenticeship. Our survey of apprentices indicated that the two most critical improvements to the apprenticeship system are to simplify the application process and provide better access to skilled trades job opportunities (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Top areas of improvements to Ontario’s skilled trades and apprenticeship system as reported by apprentices and skilled trades workers.
Improvements to the systemProportion of apprentices and skilled trades workers
Simplify the Application Process1,276
Clearer Pathways1,199
Mentorship Opportunities1,126
Awareness Training for Educators and Guidance Counsellors1,318
Better Access to Job Opportunities1,478

Knowledge gaps among educators about how to support students interested in a career in the skilled trades

Many educators, including teachers and guidance counsellors, are not aware of the requirements and steps students need to take to start a career in the skilled trades. Respondents expressed the need for a single source of information to learn about skilled trades careers. These resources can also be used to support educators coaching students on their career path.

Employers are unaware of how to recruit young people into apprenticeship opportunities

Many employers find the process for becoming a sponsor complex and administratively burdensome. Direct partnerships with skilled trades employers and industry players are critical for identifying ways to improve access and pathways into an apprenticeship. Connections between secondary schools and local employers need to be strengthened to support placement opportunities for students in cooperative education programs (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Recommendations for engaging more employers to participate in apprenticeship and skilled trades programs.
RecommendationNumber of survey respondentsPercentage of survey respondents
Marketing and promotion about the benefits of offering placements45830%
Spotlight current employers that have hired students41728%
Enhance support for students during placement to ensure a positive working experience46431%
Not sure544%
Figure 7: Challenges and barriers experienced by apprentice and skilled trades workers upon first entering the skilled trades (ages 15-34)
AgesLack of awareness or information of the skilled tradesInsufficient support from parents/peersInsufficient support from guidance counsellors/TeachersNegative perceptions or stigma of the skilled tradesLack of preparedness to work in the skilled tradesLimited awareness or information of the skilled tradesLow level of interest or motivation to work and trainConfusion or uncertainty on how to applyDifficulty finding an employerFinancial barriersOtherI did not experience barriers or challenges
Ages 15-18379972862941742993632532316857121
Ages 19-24384114275278167318463093181625788
Ages 25-3426272150157119231292142101653858

The apprenticeship system lacks a comprehensive application portal to support transitions into skilled trades careers

The apprenticeship system should have a centralized digital portal to obtain information on skilled trades careers, in-class training options and the process for applying for an apprenticeship, similar to what is available for university and college admissions, and the process for directly entering the skilled trades outside of pursuing a formal apprenticeship.

Supporting retention and transitions

Quality of training impacts the retention and progress of apprentices

Many apprentices are not receiving the adequate on-the-job training required to successfully progress through their apprenticeship. For example, some apprentices noted they were tasked with low-skilled tasks such as sweeping floors for the first several months of their training. Respondents noted the importance of providing apprentices with relevant critical skills and engaging tasks at the onset of their apprenticeship in order to empower them as valuable members of the company. The amount and quality of work that an apprentice receives on the job determines how well an apprentice progresses through their training.

Apprentices require additional support as part of their on-the-job training

Apprentices require additional support as part of their on-the-job training. Additional support and guidance throughout an apprentices’ training lead to higher retention rates for employers. If an apprentice has a bad work experience, they tend to leave the trade altogether. A support system, such as a formal mentor (within or outside of the place of employment) allows the apprentice to seek out career advice, ask questions and resolve issues that may occur throughout their training. Dedicated training for journeypersons is also required to strengthen their ability to teach the full scope of the trade as well as mentor the apprentice throughout the duration of their training. Figure 8 demonstrates that the majority of employers who participated in our online survey do not offer dedicated programs, such as mentorship, support programs for underrepresented groups, diversity, equity and inclusion policies nor strategies for recruiting and retaining youth.

Figure 8 : Percentage of skilled trades employer, union, industry or labour association respondents offering dedicated program to support skilled trades workers
Mentorship programTarget programs for under-represented groupsDiversity and inclusion policyRecruitment and retention planPrograms to attract youthNone of the above

Employers experience challenges with recruiting and retaining apprentices

Many employers identified challenges with hiring and retaining apprentices. Common reasons cited by employers related to the difficulty in finding suitable apprentices included a lack of prior experience and exposure to the skilled trades, inability to meet workplace expectations (for example longer work hours), and limited soft skills (time management, communication, etc.). Employers noted a need for additional support to train young apprentices and mentor them within a trade, for example, through the guidance of a cooperative education teacher or guidance counsellor. A greater effort should be made by employers to support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in the trades, such as women. In Figure 9, we see that the majority of survey participants indicated that building greater awareness of the programs and improving training for educators and guidance counselors would help make it easier for young people to pursue a career in the skilled trades.

Figure 9: Improvements to the apprenticeship system to make it easier for young people to pursue a career in the skilled trades.
Stakeholder groupNumber of survey respondentsPercentage of survey respondents
Build greater awareness of the variety of skilled trades to choose from and their advantages94228%
Simplify the application process47714%
Create mentorship opportunities50115%
Improve training for educators and guidance Counsellors68620%
Increase access to job opportunities62719%

More investments are required to encourage and incentivize employers to hire apprentices

We heard that many employers do not recognize the benefits and value of hiring an apprentice. Many employers often focus their time and energy on ensuring their businesses are operating successfully, and as a result, are challenged with investing time and resources towards training and mentoring apprentices. Employers indicated the high cost of training as a result of ensuring updated equipment and tools are in place, and dedicated journeyperson is available to train and supervise. Employers noted the benefit of having financial incentives to help offset the costs of training as the apprentice progresses through training. Group sponsorship is regarded as a good way to support employers as it reduces the administrative burden of recruiting apprentices and allows employers to invest more time to support apprentices’ training and progression.

I believe the key to getting employers to participate in apprenticeship programs is to show them the benefits of apprentices. They are often very engaged individuals who have goals. If you are able to provide them with the venue to achieve their goals, support and encouragement, along with mentoring you are creating a workforce for the future.

Employer/Sponsor, Industrial Mechanic Millwright