In an attempt to increase Nova Scotia’s competitiveness, Labour Minister Kelly Regan announced changes to the province’s apprenticeship regulations, reducing the amount of hours required to obtain apprenticeship certification for metal fabricators from 8,000 hours to 6,000 and raising the number of apprentices allowed to train under a provincially certified journeyman. The changes have been a long time coming, considering other jurisdictions in Canada offer much more competitive schemes for training workers, not to mention their comparative advantage in terms of employment opportunities, which pulls thousands of workers from Atlantic Canada’s labour force every year.
In Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, for instance, the demand for labour is much higher than in Eastern Canada, where unemployment rates are chronically higher and the economy is less resilient. Regardless of apprenticeship ratios in those provinces, some of which remain uncompetitive, the economic opportunities are enough to attract skilled labour in the first place.
When factoring in the other variables, such as higher wages and benefits, lower taxes, and employment stability (an attractive departure from the seasonal employment cycle that grips the Maritime Provinces), it becomes even clearer Atlantic Canada must develop competitive training programs that not only attract workers to the provinces, but also retain those who reside here already. Allowing certified professionals to train a greater number of workers is a step in the right direction. Restructuring these training programs to accommodate immigrant labour would also strengthen Atlantic Canada’s labour market.
Restricting access to skills training subsequently reduces the amount of individuals that enter the skilled trades, reinforcing higher unemployment rates in Atlantic Canada and worsening the country’s shortage of labour. Relaxing these requirements will encourage younger individuals, who constitute a declining portion of the labour force in Eastern Canada, to enter the trades.
It is important to remember, though, that developing policies to accommodate trainees and their employers represents only a fraction of what is necessary to revive Atlantic Canada’s economy. Lower taxes, fewer bureaucratic hurdles, and policies that embrace the region’s energy capabilities, both renewable and non-renewable, will not only provide employment opportunities for those in the skilled trades, but also the subsequent economic growth will reinforce the outlook for other industries, such as education, health, and technology. In any case, the decision to relax apprenticeship ratios in Nova Scotia is a positive development and the other provinces should consider similar reforms.