Investing in apprentices means investing in our future – SPECIAL REPORT
January 2, 2024 | By Tony Kovac
This SPECIAL FEATURE was developed in partnership with Electricity Human Resources Canada—the trusted source of HR insight, programs, and tools for the electricity industry.
January 2, 2024 – As of 2022, over 110,600 individuals were employed in Canada’s electricity sector, across a range of occupations. However, EHRC’s latest report “Electricity in Demand: Labour Market Insights 2023-2028” finds the sector requires close to 28,000 new employees by 2028 (equivalent to 25% of the current labour force): 57% to replace retiring employees, and 43% to meet expansion demand.
The report also identifies emerging demands for newly trained and specialized workers in the electricity sector’s labour force, and offers recommendations to help industry, labour, post-secondary institutions and government make evidence-based, workforce-related decisions.
“Electricity in Demand” opens with:
In addition to the impact of climate change and related targets on the electricity and renewable energy sector, the simultaneous onset of other drivers such as demographic shifts and technological changes are transforming human resource requirements. A wave of retirements is taking place as members of the baby boomer generation approach the end of their careers. The fact that nearly 1 in 3 workers in the Canadian economy are 55 years of age or older—a figure that will only rise going forward—threatens to constrain the availability of workers.
“Decarbonization and expansion of electrification initiatives are driving investments for clean, affordable and reliable energy […] New technologies for smart homes and smart cities, electric vehicle integration, small modular reactors, and the increasing need for energy efficiency and energy storage are all factors that are reshaping how we generate, deliver, and use electricity,” write Michelle Branigan, CEO, EHRC and Cynthia Domjancic, SVP HR, Ontario Power Generation.
EHRC notes that Canada’s electricity consumption is expected to more than double between 2023 and 2050. This increase will require more power generation to meet demand, “which will necessitate a substantial increase in the electricity sector’s labour force”.
Of course, this sector transformation is going to require a lot of electrical professionals. Branigan and Domjancic go on to say there will be “a tremendous impact on the labour market for Canada’s electricity sector”:
This transformation will require workers with different skill sets and new knowledge—many more than are employed currently—as new priorities on clean growth and electrification change the human resources landscape.
And that’s where apprentices come in.
We need apprentices
57% of the occupations in EHRC’s report are considered “core” to the sector (the other 43% involve occupations like accounting, human resources, etc.):
• Skilled trades (27%)
• Engineers, technicians and technologists (15%)
• Managers and supervisors (9%)
• Information & communications technology workers (6%)
At 29,600, the skilled trades category accounts for the largest number of core occupations, and it includes everything from powerline and cable workers to electricians, industrial electricians, power system electricians, and more. With perhaps a few exceptions, every occupation under skilled trades requires a worker candidate to undertake an apprenticeship.
And that’s where you come in.
Apprentices need employers
“One in five employers train apprentices,” said Stephen Sell (then-president of the Ontario Electrical League) during a roundtable discussion convened by Electrical Business Magazine to discuss government consultations on youth and skilled trades.
“How do we get the other four involved in the training system? Remember, employers are training organizations, as well, and that gets lost in the narrative. It’s 80% to 85% of your training program,” Sell added.
Indeed, how do we get the other four involved in the training system?
“Employers in the electricity sector face a number of barriers when taking on more apprentices,” says Yoana Turnin, program manager with EHRC, who works with both employers and apprentices. “The primary barriers include time constraints and a lack of financial resources.”
No surprises there. We know apprentices cost time and money, and the payback is measured in years. So perhaps one solution is to help with the financial aspect of taking on a first-year apprentice.
“EHRC’s Empowering Futures Program—a first-year apprentice work placement initiative for the electricity sector—provides financial incentives of up to $10,000 to Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who hire first-year apprentices or create new Work-Integrated Learning [WIL] opportunities,” Turnin says.
Here’s how it works…
For employers who take on a new first-year apprentice in one of the construction or manufacturing Red Seal Trades involved in the program (e.g. construction electrician, industrial electrician, instrumentation and control technician), the standard hiring incentive is $5000 per placement.
However, the financial incentive doubles to $10,000 per placement when the first-year apprentice stems from an “equity-deserving group”, which includes women, newcomers to Canada, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, Indigenous persons, and/or members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community.
“We developed our own custom platform—Funding For Futures—to help employers navigate the process, with an eye toward keeping things as simple as possible,” says Turnin. “The platform allows employers to easily manage their placements—from application through claim submission to evaluation. Just visit EHRC.ca and click Get Funding!”
It is important to mention that this funding is not available retroactively. Employers should apply for these incentives before hiring and registering a first-year apprentice. Each SME is eligible to (potentially) receive funding for a maximum of two first-year apprentices, per year, up to $20,000.
“We also offer resources and training on how to retain these apprentices and create inclusive workplaces,” Turnin says. “For example, with women still seeing participation in the single digits, we need to actively focus on how to attract and retain them in these well-paying careers—a win-win for employer and employee.”
Employers need apprentices
To build the long-term, future-readiness of our electricity supply, it is critical that we recruit and train thousands of Canadians to enter the skilled trades, thereby developing the pool of trained and experienced workers we need.
According to EHRC’s report, the number of new apprenticeship registrations in the electricity sector trades is actually declining.
“While there have been fluctuations over time, recent years have seen a decline in the number of new registrations of apprentices in the skilled trades relevant to the electricity sector,” Turnin points out, noting that the number of registrations fell 29% compared to the previous year when the pandemic first hit in 2020.
“If more employers were to take on apprentices and become an active part of the training system, some of the electricity sector’s labour market challenges will be alleviated,” Turnin concludes.
Even now, according to EHRC research, employers in the sector report “elevated degrees of difficulty” recruiting for skilled trades occupations, with 29% reporting High/Extreme difficulty, and an additional 58% indicating they are having Some/Moderate difficulty.
So it’s not just the industry in general that needs people, but individual employers like you. The time to invest in first-year apprentices is now, especially as programs like “Empowering Futures” come with a deadline.
“The Apprenticeship Service program—which funds these incentives—ends in March 2024,” Turnin warns, “so I encourage all eligible employers to take advantage of this opportunity!”
“After all, there can be no next generation of electrical professionals unless industry invests in creating it.”
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