Thank you very much for your invitation, Mr. Chair.
Before I get going, I want to say that you're going to hear many of today's ideas repeated in what I have to say. I apologize; we didn't coordinate before we showed up.
I am accompanied today by Matt Henderson. He leads our work on apprenticeship and captures a lot of our data on learning.
I'm also pleased to be here both in my capacity at Polytechnics Canada and as a champion member of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. I commend Sarah Watts-Rynard for her very thorough presentation.
Our Polytechnics Canada formal submission to your study makes recommendations that go beyond today's discussion on apprenticeship in proposing solutions for youth unemployment in Canada and post-secondary experiential learning, that which is referred to as work-integrated learning, but today I will focus on your interest in apprenticeship.
As countries prepare to cope with the changing nature of work, the two trends of automation and innovation have dominated policy discourse not only in Canada, but across the globe. These trends, combined with looming retirements, necessitate that individuals, both young and old, enter the labour market with relevant skills for the workplaces of tomorrow.
In these conversations about innovation, automation, and the changing nature of work, one group has been consistently underestimated, and that is Canada's skilled tradespeople, and more importantly, our apprentices. The contribution of these learners and the publicly funded post-secondary institutions at which they train is not well understood.
Polytechnics Canada represents those institutions as a national association of the country's largest, research-intensive, publicly funded polytechnics and colleges, serving over 400,000 students and 45,000 apprentices annually.
The applied nature of polytechnic education necessitates that students spend time in the environments in which they will eventually work. As such, work-integrated learning is in the DNA of the polytechnic applied model of education, more so than a university education. Polytechnics have long placed a strong emphasis on skilled trades training, providing the automation-enabling talent that will be required to build and maintain our innovation economy.
The dominant view is that experiential learning is the same as co-op placements. We know that it extends well beyond mere co-ops. Even more distinct, apprenticeship is a unique form of work-based learning, where 80% of the learning occurs on the job and 20% occurs in schools or other training organizations.
As we move into an increasingly automated future and the government sets its sights on innovation through all that is high tech, let's recognize that Canada's apprentices and the institutions they train at are already operating at the forefront of technology.
To keep pace and to ensure the success of apprentices, classrooms are as innovative as the environments in which they will operate. Apprentices are learning to diagnose engine problems using tablet-based applications, familiarizing themselves with work in a variety of environments through the use of virtual and augmented simulators, and taking courses delivered online through blended learning to allow for theory-based knowledge to be transferred while on remote job sites.
These technical skills are really important, but the future of work will depend on a combination of technical and soft skills. Polytechnic apprenticeship programs have evolved, just as the skills required in the labour market have evolved as well.
Let me give you an example. The trades to degrees program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton enables qualified trades professionals with management work experience to enter the third year of a Bachelor of Business Administration program. This builds on their previous education and professional experience to further refine their soft skills and to open doors into entrepreneurship, leadership, and management opportunities.
Next, the future of all work will need to be inclusive, and Canada's polytechnics are leaders in the delivery of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs that are targeted at non-traditional tradespeople.
The women in skill trades pre-apprenticeship program offered by Conestoga in Waterloo is just one example. The 34-week carpenter general certificate program there equips students who wish to make a career in the construction industry with the basic skills required to secure a position as an apprentice.
The curriculum provides students with basic-level apprentice training, but also incorporates components such as job search and communication skills as well as training in computer literacy and related applications. Canada's polytechnics produce highly skilled, multi-disciplinary talent that grows both the knowledge economy and the know-how economy, yet we often forget that the knowledge economy and the know-how economy enable each other. As the impact of technology increases, our skilled tradespeople are critical to success in the new world of work. They are, in fact, automation enablers.
I will now go on to our specific policy prescriptions for apprenticeship. I remind you that we also have recommendations on post-secondary work-integrated learning, as you will have seen in our formal submission.
First, on point of principle, your report should commit to the logic of parity of esteem across all forms of post-secondary education and help break the societal bias that perpetuates the hierarchy of credentials that often undervalues apprenticeship as a viable career option. In particular, the employment prospects of apprentices should be a federal priority, given the looming retirement numbers in the skilled trades professions.
Second, we recommend that the federal government leverage its own investments to amplify experiential learning and apprenticeship where possible. Your report should specifically encourage the government to link infrastructure to workforce development through a community benefits framework that prioritizes apprenticeship.
I encourage the committee members to consider and include recommendations that this committee itself issued in 2013 in its report “Economic Opportunities for Young Apprentices”, many of which still hold much merit and relevance and have yet to be acted on by the federal government.
Apprenticeship has long been an undervalued pathway for Canadians looking to enter the labour market. The result of apprenticeships is a win-win-win. Students get the hands-on experience they need; employers find the talent they need to grow; and Canada becomes more innovative, more productive, and more inclusive.
I look forward to our discussion.