The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) was the first organization in Canada that allowed construction trades to govern themselves, rather than leaving them to be directed by a provincial government ministry. At the time of its creation, the OCOT was also responsible for a much-needed modernizing of apprenticeship and skilled trades training and licensing in Ontario. On Tuesday, the Ford government made a sudden announcement that the OCOT is coming to an end.

Before the creation of the OCOT, it had been over 35 years since any government had acted on changes to technology and training needs to declare a new compulsory trade. A compulsory trade is a trade in which registration as an apprentice, journeyperson candidate or certification as a journeyperson is mandatory. At that time, we at the Operating Engineers were the last to be able to make our voice heard. In 1982, Hoisting Engineer was named a compulsory trade. It wasn’t until 2017 that Sprinkler Fitters were named the next compulsory trade. The OCOT provided a clear pathway by which any trade could apply to formally change their status to that of a compulsory trade.

Local 793 supported the creation of the OCOT right from the start. It provided improved safety and training for our members and a clear process to require licensing and training. Local 793 also supported, and continues to support, the concept of trades being regulated by those with the relevant expertise and direct involvement in the construction industry.

With the OCOT in place, many positive changes occurred that benefitted Local 793, OETIO, our members, our signatory contractors and the construction industry as a whole. The OCOT developed for the first time a Provincial Trade Exam for the Concrete Pump. The operators of TLBs, excavators, and bulldozers had their training standards reviewed and updated for the first time in almost 20 years. Appointees to the Heavy Equipment trade board, working with the OCOT, were also able to get Red Seal endorsement for those who wrote the approved Heavy Equipment Trade Exam. This ensures that our members’ skills are recognized anywhere they choose to work in Canada.

Local 793 thanks those 26 members, staff, and members of management of our signatory contractors who have spent many hours working on the OCOT trade boards, the divisional board, the board of governors and the appointments council. Over the last nine years, they have dedicated their time and expertise to make the OCOT all that it could be.

Of course, the OCOT was not perfect and did result in greater costs for fees and regulations. Safety and skills training, and a timely and enforceable means for addressing all industry concerns, remain top priorities of Local 793. We will meet, and where possible, work with the current Ford government to address our concerns and to continue to advance safety and skills training.

Our immediate priority is to meet with all Local 793 staff and with the representatives of our signatory companies, who currently do work at the OCOT, to discuss next steps. Specifically, our focus will be to help ensure the winding down of the OCOT is done responsibly. Most importantly, we must make sure that the development of a replacement model for the regulation of the skilled trades and the apprenticeship system in Ontario continues to promote safety, skills training and licensing.