The list of professional associations is growing in the fight against the Ontario government’s recently established Ontario College of Trades.
With the addition of Grand Valley Construction Association (GVCA), the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition is now made up of 15 organizations campaigning against the regulatory college the Province of Ontario implemented with the mandate of modernizing its apprenticeship and skilled trades system.
Describing the institution as a “bureaucratic boondoggle,” the Coalition—led by the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA)—has been opposed to the College of Trades since it was legislated in 2009, officially coming together in the fall of 2011.
“The College is nothing more than an $84-million tax on tradespeople and their employers,” said Coalition chair and PCA Ontario regional director Sean Reid. “There’s no demonstrable value that it’s bringing to the industry.”
The College of Trades—similar to the Ontario College of Teachers or Doctors—will oversee the industry when it launches in late 2012 or early 2013, and will be funded through membership fees.
“It’s nothing like those institutions,” Reid said of the comparisons to the province’s college of teachers or doctors. “First of all, those institutions serve one particular professional group (and) this institution will serve 157 different professional groups.”
Reid also described the governing bodies of Ontario’s educators and physicians as “democratic,” while calling the College of Trades secretive and non-transparent.
But according to Ontario College of Trades CEO and registrar Bob Guthrie, the college is exactly like the aforementioned regulatory bodies, and he doesn’t quite understand why the institution is facing so much opposition before it even gets off the ground.
“That doesn’t make sense to me, because the College of Trades is essentially an industry self-regulatory organization,” he said. “There are dozens of other professional regulatory organizations in Ontario (and) they all do more or less the same thing.”
Guthrie said the College of Trades is being introduced to protect a public interest and to promote the skilled trades as a first choice career path for young people in the province, as well as to give industry—including employers, employees and associations—an opportunity to direct their own trades.
According to the College of Trades website, the non-training institution is an independent, industry-driven body that places decision-making control in the hands of professionals and gives industry a greater role in governance, certification and training.
But the Coalition disputes this statement and claims the membership fees are nothing more than a tax on skilled trade workers that was established without any input from industry.
While membership fees have yet to be determined, Guthrie said the college has set out to have the lowest such fees of any regulatory institute in Ontario.
“We believe we’re going to meet that objective,” he said. “We’ve done the research and sort of benchmarked our college against all the other ones (and) the number to beat is $138 a year.”
Another issue at hand for the coalition is a looming skilled labour shortage in the province, one which Reid said may only be perpetuated by red tape brought in by the College of Trades.
“We are staring down a shortage of trades labour in this province,” Reid said. “We will not have enough workers to meet the demand adequately.”
In order to respond to this projected shortage efficiently, Reid said barriers need to be removed to attract skilled workers to the trades.
“We cannot have the broad-based compulsory trade certification that the college wants,” he said.
What’s more, Reid said the group of associations he represents feels that certification will raise the cost of construction dramatically.
This could have residual effects on the rest of the economy, according to Reid, as the cost of construction could impact expansion in other sectors.
“We’re in a situation where we need to attract manufacturers to Ontario (and) we need to encourage the manufacturers that are here to expand,” he said.
Guthrie did not dispute the long-anticipated labour shortage, but said the college could work to benefit the trades by elevating its status and working to attract young people.
“When you look at the demographic information, there is absolutely no doubt that we’re going to be in a fierce competition for talent in the skilled trades sectors,” he said. “In order to attract people to the skilled trades we need to elevate the status of skilled trades (and) we need to promote skilled trades careers.”
Having a professional regulatory body like the College of Trades will give the province the ability to do so, according to Guthrie, and membership fees are part and parcel with professional organizations in all industries.
“The idea of moving this whole process away from government and putting it into the hands of the industry, the people who are going to be effected principally, to me makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I believe that the issues of ratios and classification of trades are really not decisions the college will make … so I believe that their opposition is essentially misguided.”
Whether misguided or not, the College of Trades can expect continued resistance from Reid and the Coalition.