Home Month and Year September 2021 A is for Apprenticeship

A is for Apprenticeship

Modernizing Alberta’s apprenticeship system for a stronger workforce


The Germanic system of apprenticeships used throughout much of Europe recognizes 250 to 350 apprentice-based careers that span a broad range of occupations including skilled trades, information technology, business disciplines and various health fields. Alberta recognizes 47.

With a passionate commitment to (re)build a robust economy, post-pandemic, the Alberta government approved Bill 67 the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act on June 17, 2021 to expand apprenticeship education beyond the traditionally designated skilled trades in the current model.

Says Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides: “We must take every possible step to help Albertans reskill and upskill for the new economy.”

In the summer of 2019, Nicolaides commissioned the Skills for Jobs Task Force to examine and reimagine the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act, established in 1991. The 21-member Task Force was co-chaired by former NAIT president Glenn Feltham and SAIT president David Ross and included Deputy Minister of Advance Education Curtis Clarke, Assistant Deputy Minister of Advanced Education Mike Fernandez, a skilled trades caucus, MLAs, etc.

Not surprisingly, the findings revealed the 30-year-old act was outdated, unresponsive to our changing world, structurally rigid and employed non-inclusive language.

The final report released in September 2020 states: “The regulatory environment restricts rather than empowers expansion of the system… It would be difficult, if not impossible, to significantly increase apprenticeship education programs without fundamentally changing legislation and governance.”

The provincial government agreed.

Now that Bill 67 is legislated the Alberta government will launch a multi-year comprehensive plan to expand apprenticeships not only of skilled trades but also of professions: information technology, agricultural technology, engineering, social care services, and business disciplines such as banking, insurance, marketing and finance.

“In many countries you cannot become a banker unless you apprentice as a banker,” says Glenn Feltham, acting president and CEO of Grande Prairie Regional College. “It’s a different way of thinking about education but in having travelled the world and seen the very best system this is absolutely the status quo in the most productive countries in the world.”

Furthermore, the new act will also provide greater flexibility by legislatively separating apprenticeship education from regulated trades. Non-trade professions will have the opportunity to leverage apprenticeship programming without being required to become a designated trade.

The shift is purposeful and practical in that the new model will provide paid experiential on-the-job training in real time. The ecosystem must teach individuals the right skills at the right time to produce skilled workers in order to successfully meet the emerging and ever-evolving needs of the workforce in the regional/national/global economy. The time is now to align educational programs with labour market needs. The majority of learning will occur on the job supplemented by academic programming in the post-secondary institution.

Alberta is home to several colleges and polytechnics that deliver skilled trades and apprenticeship education. Alberta’s government recently announced that Red Deer College and Grande Prairie Regional College will transition to polytechnic institutions. These new polytechnics will help lead and coordinate the delivery of apprenticeship training across the province, according to Taylor Hides, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Advanced Education.

Feltham points out that in those countries that follow the Germanic model of apprenticeship, business and industry take on a far larger role in the education process in ensuring that skills brought to the workforce are relevant and high level. And so the call is out for dialogue. Industry is being asked to come forward and work with post-secondary institutions to identify new apprenticeship professions and to create learning opportunities that meet the needs of both industry and the learner.

Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education and the Registrar will have authority over apprenticeship education and the legislation. The legislation includes the creation of a new Alberta Board of Skilled Trades, which will set trades certification standards and make recommendations to the Minister on skilled trades designations and trades regulatory models. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, the board will consult with all levels — post-secondary institutions, employers, apprentices and industry — to inform its work.

Business receives real value from an apprenticeship from day one and even more so when it more purposefully defines the nature of the participation. Students in the workplace are providing knowledge back to the mentor, especially in regard to technology. Trades are changing quickly and technology is an essential focus of the trades, such as instrumentation tech on rigs, robotics on dairy farms, etc. “We’ve got a lot of workplace mentors saying, ‘I taught this kid some things, but did I learn a lot from this kid!’” says Andy Neigel, president and CEO of CAREERS: the Next Generation, an industry-driven community partnership that provides paid, credited apprenticeships to Alberta students in trades, technologies and health since 1997.

“The students come to the workplace with a fresh perspective and question why things are done a certain way and this puts pressure on an organization to think outside the box.” CAREERS places 1,000 students, mostly high school, in apprenticeships every year and in the new model will continue to assist post-secondary institutions in finding employers for these placements.

It really is a win-win. At the end of the apprenticeship the employer has incredibly well-trained people and knows with certainty whether or not they’re a good fit and will elevate the organization in the future. Feltham says a significant number of apprentices under the Germanic model choose to stay with the organization with which they apprenticed; they know the culture of the organization and they’ve developed an incredible loyalty to it. “The apprenticeship model can be very powerful,” he says.

The Task Force also made recommendations to assist in raising the parity of esteem of apprenticeship-based education, that is, the report states: “to elevate the understanding that apprenticeship education holds as much value, merit and worth as other post-secondary credentials, and that trade careers are as valuable as other professions.”

In the current framework, a completed apprenticeship certificate for journeymen carries no academic value, ultimately limiting the ability of trades professionals to pursue further education and training or to shift into new careers. For example, a journeyperson might want to pursue a Masters of Project Management. Certain institutions such as NAIT have introduced a trades to degree pathway in which a certified tradesperson can enter the third year of the business program. Says Feltham: “The certified tradespeople who’ve gone down that route have done extraordinarily well in the business program.”

The message is: No education is dead end. The new legislation will create the foundation to allow more educational options for journeypersons.

“The goal is to ensure there are seamless pathways, that there is full recognition of past learning… Learners should have options to continue their educational journey throughout life — options that build on and fully recognize the education they’ve taken,” states the report.

When the Task Force studied apprenticeships around the world, it found that Alberta’s act had not kept up with best practice. The province’s model is not broken but change is imperative. The revamped, modernized apprenticeship system, to be implemented in 2022, will fundamentally ensure that Alberta is productive and competitive, both nationally and globally.