The following article appeared in the opinion section on The Toronto Star website. It was written by Local 793 law student Josh Mandryk.

Ontario College of Trades a win for skilled tradespeople and consumers
Published on Tuesday August 07, 2012

The yet-to-launch Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has been under intense fire from construction employers who are calling for it to be abolished or overhauled before it even gets off the ground. Most recently, the Ontario Construction Employer Coalition has decried the OCOT’s proposed fee structure, characterizing it as little more than a “tax grab.”

Reasonable people can disagree on how and by whom the OCOT should be funded — this is precisely why there’s been an open consultation process on such matters from the get-go — but the important role it will play should hardly be in dispute.

Simply put, the OCOT is a North American first that will benefit skilled tradespeople and the general public as consumers.

The OCOT is the professional college for Ontario’s 500,000 skilled tradespeople. When operational, it will be the first College of Trades in North America and the largest professional college in Ontario. It will put Ontario’s skilled tradespeople on an equal footing with doctors, nurses and teachers by giving them a professional college of their own. It will give Ontario’s skilled tradespeople a voice in important public policy debates and empower them to shape the future paths of their industries.

Perhaps equally important, the OCOT will also benefit consumers. Part of its mandate is an investigatory and disciplinary function for complaints. As such, it will serve as a means for consumers to hold unscrupulous contractors to account for shoddy craftsmanship, whereas they might currently be prevented from doing so through more costly and cumbersome legal alternatives.

In light of this function, it becomes easier to understand why certain construction contractors might be opposed to the OCOT.

The OCOT will also be charged with the crucially important task of attracting and recruiting the next generation of Ontario’s skilled tradespeople.

As is well known and oft cited, Ontario faces a looming worker shortage in the skilled trades. The Construction Sector Council estimates that in the construction trades alone 100,000 new skilled tradespeople will be required between 2011 and 2019 to meet Ontario’s growing construction needs. Part of the OCOT’s mandate is to be a champion of the trades, to raise their profile and to reach out to young Ontarians to encourage them to pursue a career in the skilled trades. Just as important, it will help ensure these future tradespeople reflect Ontario’s full diversity.

Industry has thus far woefully failed to attract and, more importantly, retain, the apprentices required to meet our future needs. Fortunately, the OCOT will help give the trades the status and organizational capacity to face these challenges.

Another major source of construction employer resistance to the OCOT seems to be the fact that it is charged with the responsibility for reviewing apprenticeship and certification requirements, which they fear will be maintained and raised. Currently, an impartial panel of expert adjudicators is hearing submissions on apprenticeship ratios, and a similar process will be undertaken in the future with respect to certification requirements. Employers have little to be concerned about regarding this process. Whatever the result, all sides can be satisfied that the outcome will take into account all submissions and will be made in the industry’s and the public’s best interest.

Many tradespeople might feel frustrated by the fact that they will have to pay more for certification under the new OCOT. This sentiment is understandable, but these fees ought to be seen as an investment in their careers. The OCOT will raise the profile of the trades — and ultimately the earning potential of current and future tradespeople.

Barring a reversal of globalization and free trade agreements with low-wage jurisdictions, traditional postwar manufacturing seems unlikely to return to Ontario in any meaningful way. Such a shift does not appear on the horizon, so the skilled trades are likely to remain the primary place where Ontarians will be able to create, produce and work with their hands to earn a good living. The OCOT will serve as a mechanism to help ensure such a lifestyle is maintained for Ontario’s skilled tradespeople.

In 1928 Ontario led the way as the first Canadian province to introduce a statutory-based apprentice system. In the same vein, Ontario is now leading the way with North America’s first College of Trades.

The OCOT is a bold step, but it’s one which should be celebrated.

Josh Mandryk is a law student for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793.

To see the article, click here.