A new act is set to revamp Alberta’s apprenticeship system

30 novembre 2021 | Tari M. Hiebert, Emily Cook-Bielech, James Wallbridge

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

The Alberta Legislature has passed a new law that will revamp Alberta’s apprenticeship system: the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act (the “Skilled Trades Act”).[1] The Skilled Trades Act is not currently in force, but once it receives Proclamation, this new legislation will repeal and replace the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act (the “Apprenticeship Act”), which was enacted in 1991.[2] It is anticipated that the Skilled Trades Act will come into force in 2022, but the exact date is not yet known.

Changes under the new Skilled Trades Act will include expanding apprenticeship education to professions outside the skilled trades and ensuring that post-secondary institutions are more responsive in meeting the needs of Alberta’s industries. Post-secondary institutions, employers, and workers in all industries should take notice of these significant changes.

Time to Modernize the Apprenticeship System in Alberta

Under the current Apprenticeship Act, apprenticeship programs are used to provide on-the-job training in designated trades and occupations, with additional classroom components completed at post-secondary institutions. An appointed Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board advises the Minister of Advanced Education regarding the province’s labour market needs and makes recommendations to the Minister regarding the designation or rescission of certain trades and occupations eligible for apprenticeships.[3] This Board establishes entrance criteria for apprenticeship programs, as well as the requirements to receive a journeyperson’s certificate after completion of an apprenticeship program.[4]

Changes to the Apprenticeship Act were recommended following a report from the Skills for Jobs Task Force. This Task Force was appointed by the Alberta government in September 2019, in order to find ways to modernize Alberta’s apprenticeship education and to meet the challenges of long-term labour shortages.

The Task Force’s Final Report,[5] completed in September 2020, concluded that Alberta’s apprenticeship system, while strong, is not optimized to meet the long-term demands of Alberta’s economy. The demand for apprentices increases during periods of economic growth, but decreases during periods of economic stagnation.[6] Additionally, Alberta’s apprenticeship system makes it difficult to diversify the fields in which apprenticeships are available, as multiple years may be needed to update a curriculum or designate new trades eligible for apprenticeships. This has resulted in the current system’s inefficiency in responding to market needs.[7]

In contrast, European countries’ robust and flexible apprenticeship systems allow them to expand on-the-job training to new careers in traditional industries, such as apprenticeships in the construction industry for composites and materials, cladding, and pilings.[8]  Some European countries offer nearly 200 apprenticeship-based careers, while Alberta provides only 47.[9]

The Task Force also concluded that employers lack incentives to improve apprentices’ on-the-job training, or to hire and retain apprentices.[10] The Final Report made clear that, absent fundamental changes to the Apprenticeship Act, Alberta’s labour force would continue to suffer cyclical economic downturns, in addition to low completion rates in apprenticeship programs.

The New Skilled Trades Act Will Make Apprenticeships Available in More Occupations

The Skilled Trades Act implements many of the Final Report’s recommendations. With this new legislation, the Alberta government aims to respond more efficiently to labour market demands while expanding the number of fields utilizing apprenticeship programs.

Under the Skilled Trades Act, the Minister of Advanced Education will be able to establish programs to provide on-the-job learning and classroom instruction in certain occupational fields, including those in the service sector, as well as marketing and banking.[11] The Minister will also be able to engage post-secondary institutions in providing the instructional components of these apprenticeship educational programs.[12] The Minister will have the power to appoint a Registrar, under the Public Service Act,[13] to establish criteria for acceptance into an apprenticeship program and the competencies that apprentices must demonstrate on exams or other assessments.[14]

The Skilled Trades Act will also enable apprentices to obtain post-secondary credentials, in recognition that individuals completing an apprenticeship program may pursue further education, such as a diploma or bachelor’s degree. The Skilled Trades Act will permit individuals completing approved apprenticeship programs to apply their accumulated credits towards other post-secondary programs.

Finally, the Skilled Trades Act intends to address concerns about the perceived value of apprenticeship education in Alberta. The Final Report noted there was “little understanding by most Albertans of careers in the skilled trade professions.”[15]

By expanding the availability of apprenticeships to new professions and granting post-secondary credits for completing apprenticeship programs, the government hopes to increase public understanding of apprenticeship programs and help Albertans recognize their value as meaningful academic credentials.[16]

Considerations for Employers

The Alberta government promises industry leaders a significant voice in the shaping of the province’s new apprenticeship model. Employers, including those in the construction industry, are uniquely positioned to influence the development of regulations and educational programs under the Skilled Trades Act.

Industries with currently existing apprenticeship programs, or those operating in sectors where apprenticeship programs will soon be created, should be prepared for consultation with the Alberta Board of Skilled Trades. This Board is appointed by the Minister to consult with industries regarding the standards or requirements for certification in apprenticeship programs, as well as any other matters the Board deems necessary.[17]

In preparation for such discussions, employers should consider changes to apprenticeship training they would like to see in their industry, as well as the skills and competencies that apprentices in their industry should demonstrate to receive academic credentials. Employers should also be prepared to provide input to the Board regarding regulations being developed to supplement the Skilled Trades Act.

Further, employers should consider whether their industry may benefit from an expansion of apprenticeship programs into new careers. For example, employers in the construction industry may determine that expansion of apprenticeship programs into the areas of cladding and composite materials would be beneficial to the training and retention of employees. Through this consultation process, it is hoped an apprenticeship model that is more responsive to the needs of employers will be developed, which will contribute to long-term economic stability in the province.

Other Changes Being Made to Alberta’s Apprenticeship System

The Skilled Trades Act will permit the Lieutenant Governor in Council to create or amend regulations to account for difficulties in transitioning from the Apprenticeship Act to the new Skilled Trades Act.[18]

Despite the proposed changes, the Skilled Trades Act does not appear to affect the status of apprenticeship education programs already approved under the existing legislation, nor individuals currently registered in apprenticeship programs.[19]

Looking Toward the Future

At the time of writing, Bill 74, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2021,[20] has passed Committee of the Whole and is currently awaiting Third Reading and Royal Assent. If passed as it currently stands, Bill 74 will amend the new Skilled Trades Act by providing the Minister with authority to regulate both apprentice wage rates (subject to the Employment Standards Code[21]) and apprentice-to-mentor ratios.

Bill 74 would also give the Minister authority to designate new trades to eliminate conflict between the Skilled Trades Act and the Professional and Occupational Associations Registration Act,[22] which could have otherwise resulted in new trades not being regulated by either act.

If passed, Bill 74’s amendments that rely on the coming into force of the Skilled Trades Act will be proclaimed once the Skilled Trades Act comes into force in 2022.

In conclusion, the new Skilled Trades Act aims to modernize Alberta’s apprenticeship system and standardize credit recognition for apprenticeship education across multiple industries. Given the new powers accorded to the Minister of Advanced Education and the Lieutenant Governor in Council’s latitude to create or amend regulations during the transition process, the full extent of the changes to Alberta’s apprenticeship system remain to be seen.

[1]     Skilled Trades Act, SA 2021, c S-7.88 [Skilled Trades Act].

[2]     RSA 2000, c A-42 [Apprenticeship Act].

[3]     Ibid., s. 3(1)(b).

[4]     Ibid., s. 3(2).

[5]     Alberta Government, “Skills for Jobs Task Force Final Report” (12 January 2021), online: <https://open.alberta.ca/publications/skills-for-jobs-task-force-final-report>, see “Skills for Jobs Task Force Final Report” (September 2020) (pdf) [Final Report].

[6]     Ibid. at 13.

[7]     Ibid.

[8]     Ibid. at 34.

[9]     Ibid.

[10]    Ibid. at 40.

[11]    Skilled Trades Act, supra note 1, s. 3(1)(a); Michelle Bellefontaine, “Alberta Wants to Expand Use of Apprenticeships Into a Wider Variety of Jobs” (13 April 2021), quoting from Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-wants-to-expand-use-of-apprenticeships-into-a-wider-variety-of-jobs-1.5986044#:~:text=Alberta%20wants%20to%20use%20the,that%20made%20this%20shift%20impossible.>.

[12]    Skilled Trades Act, ibid., s. 3(1)(b).

[13]    RSA 2000, c P-42.

[14]    Supra note 1, ss. 5–6.

[15]    Final Report, supra note 5 at 41.

[16]    Skilled Trades Act, supra note 1, Preamble.

[17]    Ibid., s. 14(1).

[18]    Ibid., s. 41.

[19]    Supra note 1, s. 39.

[20]    2nd Sess, 30th Leg, Alberta, 2021 (passed Committee of the Whole 17 November 2021).

[21]    RSA 2000, c E-9.

[22]    RSA 2000, c P-26.

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