More importantly, they’ve also learned how to apply classroom theory to the real world. By working closely with experienced journeypersons, apprentices learn how to solve problems, to utilize new or unfamiliar technology, and ultimately keep Canada moving forward.

"Fortunately, many young people are now seizing the opportunity."

Larry Slaney is the United Association Director of Training for Canada and believes that apprenticeship training is pivotal to Canada’s future. “Apprenticeship programs do more than just train a new set of workers,” says Larry. “A steamfitter, for instance, has to understand the operation of power plants, gas plants, [and] refineries. They have to understand the operation and start up procedures for pumps, turbines, gas units, et cetera. If there is no agency responsible for training, funding, and infrastructure requirements for apprentices then the system would fail — and Canada would fail with it.”

Value of apprenticeships

The value of apprenticeship programs then, is not to perpetuate a conveyer belt system of cookie cutter workers, but to ensure that workers have academic and theoretic understanding, and that they can apply that knowledge under the supervision of experienced journeypersons.

However, while unions are eager to stress the importance of training and experience, there are economic factors to consider. The Canadian government and Skills Canada both see apprenticeships as essential to Canada’s continued economic prosperity. According to Skills Canada, our nation will need one million skilled trades workers by 2020, with the construction sector alone needing some 300,000 new workers in the next ten years.

Seizing the opportunity

Fortunately, many young people are now seizing the opportunity. Kathleen Martin, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) sees apprenticeships as “a key component in developing Canada’s competitive, skilled, and mobile labour force.  There are approximately three million workers in the skilled trades, representing 17 percent of the Canadian workforce,” says Kathleen. As well, according to the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS), 2012 saw an increase of 8.1 percent in new apprenticeships over the previous year. An increase, that Kathleen argues, is a reflection of “sustained labour market demand.”

While increased demand and opportunities are welcome, it is essential that standards be maintained. With it comes tighter deadlines, conflicting priorities, and busier schedules. It is vital that such pressure does not result in carelessness. All apprentices must continue to receive the training and supports necessary to do their jobs efficiently, and safely.